We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.” So said Will Rogers and so says Sean Lux and Dr. Debi Strand, Naples residents and co-founders of Collier County Honor Flight (CCHF).
Honor Flight is a national organization dedicated solely to taking Veterans to Washington, at no cost to them, so they can visit and reflect at their memorials. It is 100 percent volunteer and 100 percent donation funded. Since September 2013, 98 area Veterans have been escorted to the nation’s capital and CCHF plans to take 125 more before 2014 ends.
CCHF is the passion project of Veterans Mr. Lux (Air Force) and Dr. Strand (Navy.) As Guardians (escorts who accompany Veterans) for 90 year old Veterans on another chapter’s flight, they experienced the profound meaning of Honor Flight. Transformed by the experience and stunned at the reality that nearly 700 World War II Veterans die
every day, they moved at warp speed to get the chapter founded and their inaugural flight off the ground last November in less than five weeks.
Says Mr. Lux “we exist simply to give the biggest THANK YOU we can to our WWII Veterans and Veterans of all other conflicts.” Through the generous support of the Collier County community and the participation of volunteers, the chapter completed a second successful mission on April 26, 2014.
Flight Day is the culmination of significant planning led by Mr. Lux, Dr. Strand, their Board Members and volunteers. Travelers meet at Naples Airport at 4:00 a.m. to board buses for RSW, meet the Lee County flight members and depart for Washington. Upon arrival, buses take them on a tour of the city, on to Arlington National Cemetery and these memorials: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Iwo Jima. Then it’s back to the airport for their flight to RSW, a “Welcome Home” celebration and the day’s last bus ride back to Naples.
“The Veterans (ages 87 to 98,) are amazingly healthy,” says Medical Coordinator Johnna Dettis ARNP, CAPT USN Retired who evaluates each Veteran before the trip. She adds “they excitedly do an 18 hour day with CCHF that leaves their (younger) Guardians exhausted!”
“The CCHF experience brings Naples together in a great way!” says Dr. Strand. North Naples Fire Service Public Information Officer, Jerry Sanford, a Navy and FDNY Veteran describes it this way “Of all of the wonderful things that have been part of my life, being a Guardian for the Greatest Generation is at the top.”
For Veterans in this area the future is bright. “I hope to see CCHF stronger and stronger with time and make sure ALL of our Veterans receive the proper ‘thank you for your service’ they deserve” says Dr. Strand.
The entire community can be part of CCHF by joining them at RSW to “Welcome Home” the next trip: Mission THREE-75 on September 13, 2014. Seventy-Five WWII Veterans will return at 10:30 p.m. Additional information and details on how you can be a part of this organization are available on the chapter’s website: www.collierhonorflight.org and Facebook: Collier County Honor Flight.