By Maren McInness
Three students and two professors associated with BYU’s Nursing College went on a life-changing flight last September. They flew to Washington D.C. and visited war memorials — all while pushing wheelchairs, assisting with medication and generally attending to veterans. This May the College of Nursing will be doing even more, sponsoring an Honor Flight for 15 veterans.
Honor flights are sponsored by the Utah Honor Flight Program. Its purpose is to take veterans to see the memorials created in their honor. The trips usually span two days and cost about $900 for each veteran, a sum that none of them pay out-of-pocket thanks to generous donors.
Many volunteers help to make the Utah Honor Flight possible. Each veteran has a guardian to take care of their needs during the trip. In addition to the guardians, there is a medic. During the Honor Flight last September, that medic was Associate Dean of BYU’s College of Nursing Kent Blad. With him were BYU Professor Ron Ulberg and nursing students Jason Egan, Marthea Hale, and Petr Ruda serving as guardians. These students had previously taken a nursing class dedicated to learning how to serve and care for veterans.
The class was the only class of its kind in the nation until 2012 and taught by Blad and Ulberg, both veterans themselves. The BYU class is one of 10 offered for Global Health and Human Diversity credit. Past classes have gone to Washington to learn history and more about veterans. Other schools are now pushing for veteran care classes, and BYU Nursing is leading the way.
BYU Nursing is sponsoring 15 veterans, supported by a mentoring grant and help from other generous donors, such LDS Philanthropies. The 15 students in the veteran class will attend the Honor Flight as guardians and see to the veterans needs. This is a tradition professors hope to continue through the years, provided they have sponsors.
At the state Capitol the Honor Flight is being promoted as well. During House floor time in February, six World War II veterans wheeled and walked in as every member of the house arose in honor of their service. Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, presented the vets and the program with a joint, official citation from the Utah House and Senate.
In addition to honoring veterans, this citation honors the individuals who make the Honor Flight possible. “It’s just amazing, the people in our community that have come forward to help with this process,” Perry said.
The Honor Flight Program is a nationwide, non-profit organization. Utah established a branch in 2013, and since that time, Honor Flight has sponsored five major flights to Washington with more than 200 Utah veterans receiving an opportunity to visit their memorial. There are more than 8,000 World War II veterans in Utah, and very few have seen the memorial.
“These men and women deserve our respect,” Perry said. “They deserve more than that. They deserve to go back and see these monuments.”
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, sponsored several veterans in the past and said it has been one of the greatest experiences he has ever had.
“I would like to issue a challenge to this House,” Dee said. “There are many veterans in Utah who need to have this experience. . . . Wouldn’t it be great if we issued a challenge in this House to sponsor an Honor Flight from the House of Representatives? Wouldn’t that be great?”
Speaker of the House, Greg Hughes, R-Draper, accepted the challenge on behalf of House members and Dee and Perry are hopeful that all 75 members will donate.
“Honor Flight is the finest organization I’ve ever been a part of,” said Craig Johnson, a volunteer who has been working with the non-profit for a year. His grandfather, father, and brother were all in the military, and he wanted to do something worthy of their service.
“It’s about the veterans. And when we say we’re taking these veterans out to see their memorial, we say that very purposefully. It is their memorial,” Johnson said. “The Honor Flight was created to show a small sliver of gratitude.”
Dee told the representatives about one vet, Fred Roberts, who served in the Navy and sailed on the U.S.S. Putnam into Tokyo Bay the morning of the Japanese surrender. Dee grew emotional as he spoke about his experience talking with the veteran.
“It was a joy,” Roberts said of the flight he took in September, “It was so well planned.” After the citation was presented, Roberts smiled as he shook the hand of grateful representatives and volunteers.
“I know we’ve got a lot of important business to take care of, but if we can’t take a break to honor people like this, our priorities are messed up,” Perry said.
“They were once called the greatest generation,” Dee added. “They are still the greatest generation.”
To donate to Utah’s Honor Flight and help BYU Nursing visit www.utahhonorflight.org