Honda Associate Serves Veterans Thorough Honor Flight

Having served in the United States Navy from 1978-1984, one might think Steve Thomas’ service to his country is paid in full. However, his call to serve still remains.

Thomas, a former Honda R&D Americas associate in Ohio who transfered to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama last month, serves America’s military veterans through his work with Honor Flight Columbus. Honor Flight takes veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to Washington, D.C. and back in a single day to see the memorials erected in their honor and to visit the brothers in arms they lost years ago.

“Many of those veterans have never been to D.C., or if they have, it was 50 years ago before their memorial was built,” Thomas said. “So the day is very special for them.”
Thomas’s first flight was about six years ago as a guardian for his father-in-law, a Korean War veteran. Guardians accompany veterans throughout the trip to ensure they have a safe and memorable experience. Although their job description is primarily to physically assist the veterans, for Thomas, a guardian’s true purpose is to be a companion and hear the veteran’s story.

When they land at John Glenn Columbus International Airport, the veterans receive a new American flag and, “the icing on the cake,” as Thomas says, a proper welcome home from hundreds of people, many of them perfect strangers.

“So many of those veterans never heard ‘thank you,’ and so many returned by train and walked home in the middle of the night, alone,” Barr said.
Honor Flight is the “welcome home” they never had. “They deserve to have a day of honor even if they don’t feel they do,” Barr added.

And although physical war wounds may have been mended years ago, many emotional wounds have been untreated for decades. Honor Flight helps heal those wounds.

The trips foster new friendships and sometimes even bring lonely veterans out of isolation. Barr said when one Honor Flight veteran passed away, his daughters found photos of him and his newly found brothers in almost every room of his house. The daughters wrote to Honor Flight, thanking them for bringing joy, friendship, and camaraderie back into their father’s life, something he’d been missing since his wife passed away years earlier.

Visiting the memorials also gives veterans a chance to relieve unsettled burdens and say a proper goodbye. One of Thomas’s veterans, a Navy Seabee, said his goal for the day was to find the name of the lone sailor he lost in Vietnam.

He did.

Honor Flight has 140 hubs across 42 states and selects veterans by sequence of oldest conflict first. All veterans who are terminally ill qualify as “TLC,” or “their last chance,” and are moved to the top of the list.

Thomas and Barr agree one of the best ways for Honda associates to get involved is simple: just spread the word. Too many deserving veterans don’t know Honor Flight is available to them.

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