VINALHAVEN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Nearly three dozen Maine military veterans, including some who served in World War II, will head to Washington next week to visit the national memorial to that war, along with memorials to Korean and Vietnam vets.
It will be the latest trip conducted through a nationwide program called Honor Flight. The man who started that program is now living and working in Maine.
Earl Morse, who served 21 years in the Air Force, said he began Honor Flight nine years ago while he was working at a VA clinic in Ohio. He is now the physician's assistant at the Medical Center on the island of Vinalhaven.
Morse said word about Honor Flight got around the island, and it resulted in a trip to Washington in March with four Vinalhaven veterans. His enthusiasm for helping veterans evidently found a home, and there is now a Maine chapter of Honor Flight.
"I actually thought it was too good to be true," said Melissa Thissell, who is now a board member for Honor Flight Maine, said. Thissell is the supervisor for a bank branch on Vinalhaven and said she has helped with a lot of the fundraising so far. But Thissell said she has also been calling veterans to sign them up for the next trip in October, and said it can be an emotional experience, because the veterans are so grateful.
Morse said Honor Flight began with private pilots flying veterans in their own planes, and those pilots remain a key part of the program. The Maine chapter now has signed up 48 pilots in all parts of the state.
"There is no place in the state of Maine that we cannot get a plane to that veteran and fly him out." Morse continued, "The entire state of Maine is covered, we've got this for the veterans."
The trips are free, thanks to donations. Morse said veterans are always grateful, especially those from World War II.
"These people, collectively and literally, saved the world," said Morse, a point he made several times during our interview. "And for them to wait over sixty years to have their memorial, and no way to get there? Now we have the honor and privilege of escorting them to America's giant thank-you for their service."
Morse said most veterans groups should also know how to contact Honor Flight.