Ted Achenson received a Purple Heart for his service as a combat camera man in the Vietnam War while working for the Department of Army Special Photography Office. Recenly, he and a plane full of Purple Heart recipients took an unforgettable trip to Washington D.C. where each were paired with a volunteer guardian and were given the hero treatment while visiting the national war memorials, all at no expense to the veteran.
Of the trip, Achenson says, “The whole experience was very moving. I had avoided going to the Vietnam War Memorial by myself. It was too hard, but I found the strength to face it with this group by my side. We leaned on each other for support. Remembering those we lost was difficult. We all had names we looked for on that wall. We each lent a shoulder and leaned on a shoulder in turn.”
This once-in-a-lifetime trip was made possible by The Honor Flight Network. This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing our nation’s aging veterans with honor and closure. Funded entirely through donations, these heroes are provided with an all-expense paid trip to see the war memorials dedicated to their service.
Referring to what The Honor Flight Network does as simply travel accommodations is an understatement, however. They coordinate trips befitting these heroes and their priceless service. For many of the program participants, this is the first and only opportunity they will ever have to visit these memorials in our nation’s capitol.
The Honor Flight Network offers something more to our veterans than just a free trip, it offers validation of their service and sacrifice. Achenson comments, “Many Vietnam veterans were met with a hostile reception upon our return from war. To be celebrated in such a way really meant a lot.”
All too often, especially in older generations, soldiers returned home from war and went about their life without discussing or processing what they had been through. These trips give them a safe place to do that, surrounded by those who are doing the same thing and have a unique understanding of what that means.
Achenson says, “We got to share our experiences and swap war stories with people who understood. Many of these stories were ones we had never told before because we just couldn’t go there mentally. Several of us on the trip even realized we were all in the same firefight in 1968. It was amazing to make that connection.”
Describing the special treatment they received during his Honor Flight, Achenson says, “A crowd came to give us a grand send off. Our plane was met with a water salute on the runway. Then a crowd welcomed us at the airport in Washington D.C. We had a police escort from the airport to our hotel. At every turn throughout the trip, we were met with such fanfare and warmth. And when we came home, we were greeted with a hero’s welcome. It was all very touching.”
He continues, “Anyone on that trip will tell you it rates up there as one of the more important moments in their life. The whole experience was powerful. I tell any veteran, if you get a chance to go on this trip, you should take it!”
The Honor Flight Network is racing against the clock to get as many of our senior veterans to their memorials that honor their priceless service. World War II veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, are at the top of their priority list, followed by Korean and Vietnam veterans. Each day the number of these veterans dwindles, many of them never having had the chance to visit the memorial honoring their service. Not wanting to miss any more opportunities to express gratitude, the non-profit organization has set the ambitious goal of providing trips to each and every veteran on their ever-expanding wait list.
Sport Clips Haircuts believes in this goal and it is the reason they became corporate sponsors of the organization. These trips are a small token of appreciation to our country’s veterans and Sport Clips is committed to helping The Honor Flight Network provide more final tours of honor to those who have given so much.