A Philadelphia-based nonprofit whose mission is to honor American veterans is publicly calling for volunteers to join them in recognizing veterans for their latest tour of honor this Saturday.
Honor Flight Philadelphia will be holding its one-day Tour of Honor on June 25 in which they’ll take 150 veterans departing from Saints Simon and Jude church in West Chester, Pa., and bus them to Washington, D.C. where they’ll visit national veterans memorials and enjoy lunch before returning home to a welcome party.
It is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started two years ago that the group has been able to conduct a tour.
Public volunteers are invited to visit the D.C. memorials with the veterans earlier in the day on Saturday. Volunteer motorcyclists are invited to escort the caravan of buses during its return trip from the Pennsylvania Welcome Center on Interstate 95 at the Delaware-Pennsylvania border at approximately 4:00 p.m. Volunteers are also invited to attend the Heroes Welcome Home ceremony and dinner party when the veterans return to West Chester at approximately 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Andrew Schiavello, President of Honor Flight Philadelphia, told American Military News, “We try to generate crowds and thank you’s.”
Schiavello, a son of a Navy veteran, said he was called to this work 10 years ago when he learned the Honor Flight organization was trying to establish a Philadelphia hub. To date, he has helped take some 2,500 veterans to visit the memorials in D.C. free of charge.
“I realize what they gave and there’s no way to repay them,” Schiavello said, adding that the Tour of Honor is “just a small token of me saying thank you.”
The group was shut down for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, unable to serve veterans who were part of the most at-risk groups for the coronavirus, and also unable to carry out fundraising activities. Saturday’s Tour of Honor will be the first in more than two years.
Among the 150 veterans on the trip are those from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Schiavello said it is getting increasingly hard to find and reach WWII veterans, who are older and aren’t getting out as often as they used to.
Honor Flight Philadelphia brings along 120 wheelchairs for the veterans. Those with medical conditions are assigned a guardian with medical training to provide care for the veterans throughout the trip.
“Nothing disqualifies the veterans from going as long as the doctor okays them,” Schiavello explained.
The oldest veteran served by the group to date was 103 years old. Two of the oldest veterans on the Saturday trip are aged 100 and 102.
On the return trip home, the group holds “Mail Call” during which each veteran is given a packet of thank-you letters from mostly kids. “It reminds them that the country still adores them,” Schiavello said.
When they return to West Chester in the evening, the veterans will walk through a crowd of volunteers and attend a celebration dinner.
“I want people to realize their service and their sacrifice that gives us the world and freedoms we cherish today,” Shiavello said.