By CAROL LACER
CHAPMAN — WWII veterans who have not yet taken advantage of a free trip to Washington D.C. to see the WWII Memorial are being sought and encouraged to make the trip.
“The youngest WWII veterans have to be around 85 years old,” said veteran Ernie Wilkins, who took the trip and recommends it to all WWII veterans.
Wilkins' top moments included seeing the WWII Memorial with its aura of dignity, the tour of the White House, The Korean Memorial, and the Arlington National Cemetery, the honoring the WWII vets saw as their plane taxied to the terminal at BWI.
Ernie Wilkins and his wife, Kay, are working to raise funds for a new Honor Flight organization, Kansas Honor Flights. Ernie spoke to the Lions Club recently about the fundraiser he and Kay are working on, and said the Lions Club and others showed interest in helping the new organization.
“We hope we can get enough funds to send 100 veterans,” Kay said. “I am sending a letter out to all my friends and family, and all Ernie's friends and family to request donations.”
Kay and Ernie have volunteered for many good causes, and she hopes to hear from everyone.
“Seeing the WWII Memorial is really worthwhile. It is one of the nicest memorials we have ever seen,” Ernie said. “It has an aura about it that kind of chokes you up.”
An alleged theft of over $100,000 last spring from the former organization, Central Prairie Honor Flights from Great Bend, ended its association with the National Honor Flight Organization.
In its place is the Kansas Honor Flights, which was organized in May 2012.
Mike VanCampen of Turon and Lowell Downey of Hutchinson held a meeting at the Wilkins' home recently to share guidelines for those who want to make the trip, or want to hold fundraisers so more WWII veterans can make the trip. VanCampen and Downey help lead the new organization.
“We are still trying to track down veterans who had sent applications to Central Prairie,” VanCampen said. He said the paperwork for Central Prairie was in disarray, and it has been a challenge to try to reach veterans who had sent applications to the former Honor Flight organization. VanCampen said a paid employee has been charged with embezzling the stolen funds from the Central Prairie Honor Flights, but she has not yet been found guilty.
The staff at the new organization, Kansas Honor Flights, is all voluntary. The money raised goes to pay for the veterans expenses on their trip and their stay in Washington D.C, and also to help pay for paper, printing and mailing supplies.
VanCampen stressed that WWII veterans travel free, but their guardian pays for their trip, which is $650-$700. There are a few new guidelines for guardians.
WWII veterans are at the top of the list to go, but Korean and Vietnam veterans are invited to sign up for future dates. Three possible flights are being planned, with the first trip in April.
WWII veterans must have served from Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946.
Korean War veterans must have served between June 25, 1950 and Jan. 31, 1955; and Vietnam War veterans must have served from Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975.
VanCampen said WWII veterans who are facing a terminal illness are given top priority.
For more information, visit www.kansashonorflight.org or contact Mike VanCampen at 620-546-2400 or at email@example.com.
To make a donation for the Wilkins fundraiser, which will go directly to the Kansas Honor Flights, send a check payable to the "Kansas Honor Flight" and mail the check to Ernie and Kay Wilkins, P.O. Box 120, Chapman, KS 67431. The Wilkins can also be reached at 785-922-6298.
Donations can also be mailed to Kansas Honor Flight, P.O. Box 2371, Hutchinson, KS 67504, or visit the website and click on the “donate” button.