TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Greater Lafayette Honor flight has been changing the lives of local Veterans since 2012.
"This is a way to say, 'Thank you'" said Vietnam Veteran Mark Thompson.
Since 2012, the Greater Lafayette Honor Flight has been doing just that.
"I've met guys that are really bitter because of the things they've done or seen," said Program President Kevin Bol. "The way they were treated when they come home. A whole variety of reasons. A lot of them don't talk about it, and then they get there. They see how we take care of them, how we introduce them to people in D.C. that just stop and thank them for their service. They're just blown away."
Thompson was one of those people until he went on a flight with his father-in-law in 2012.
"I was a little reluctant, but I'm glad I did because it turned me around," Thompson said.
The program takes Veterans and their guardians to the nation's capital for one day. Many spend their time visiting historic landmarks and embracing history.
For Veterans like Thompson, it allowed him to reconnect with people who served when he did.
"He saw the emblem on my hat, and he said, 'Well, we used to hall fuel to you people.' So, right there was kind of an acceptance if you will," Thompson explained.
But the opportunity ended briefly in 2018. Fortunately, the program was revived a year later.
Bol said the organization was able to raise enough money for a May 2020 flight, but then...
"We had a full plan, booked, ready to go, paid for, and then COVID," said Bol.
The flight was then set for October.
"Well that didn't turn out either," Bol added.
Now, the 85 Veterans and their guardians for the day are forced to wait until the pandemic is over, but the wait may be too long for some.
Thompson said two Veterans have died waiting for this particular flight.
"Unfortunately the age group of the WWII Veterans. It's getting harder and harder to find Vets that are physically able to go," said Thompson.
The pandemic has also had an impact on the program's fundraisers.
Bol said most fundraisers have been canceled. "People are hunkered down and staying home. So, it's affecting funds."
A recent virtual 5-k raised some money, but Bol worries it won't be enough.
Bol said, "If we don't raise the money, we don't get to fly, and it's expensive."
Each flight costs between $125,000 to $150,000 in total.
Thomspon hopes the program can make it through the pandemic, so other Vets can get a chance to have the life-changing experience.
"Before 2012, nobody knew except my family that I had been in the service, let alone Vietnam," he said. "It turned me around."
The flight originally scheduled for last May is tentatively scheduled for sometime this spring. It all depends on if it's safe enough to go.
For more information on how you can donate to the Greater Lafayette Honor Flight Program, click here.