Honor Flight Nevada has opened up a new world for hundreds of military veterans who have traveled to the nation’s capital to see the many monuments and tributes honoring America’s heroes.
Now in its fifth year, Honor Flight Nevada has grown tremendously since the first flight lifted off from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport to Washington, D.C., and the volunteer help and donations keep increasing.
The Honor Flight Network, according to its website, is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. The program transports veterans to visit and reflect at their respective memorials.
Jon Yuspa, founder and CEO of Honor Flight Nevada, said the organization has received generous donations during the past two years including one that has funded three trips for Vietnam veterans to the East Coast.
“Last year in June was the first one as a result of an anonymous donation of $150,000 to speed the Vietnam process up,” said Yuspa, who attended a chili cook-off in Carson City last weekend.
One such veteran who participated in the first flight for Vietnam veterans — the first in the nation for that era — was Dale Hart, who served in the Southeast Asia country in 1969-1970.
“It’s been the best program for a military veteran,” Hart said. “Every veteran should take a flight.”
Hart, who served in the U.S. Army, said the Honor Flight brought back some good memories, and for many veterans, he said they find a sense of closure.
As Yuspa continued to describe the program, he pointed to various veterans from different eras and how many of them have formed a tight-knit friendship because of the time they spent together on a specific Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
“These trips being them a new camaraderie,” Yuspa said, adding the next Honor Flight Nevada will take World War II and Korean War vets to Washington from Sept. 9-11. Near the end of the year, Yuspa said Honor Flight Nevada hopes to take American Indian veterans to see the war memorials and also to weigh in on a future memorial.
“We’re trying to organize an end-of-the-year trip for the Native Americans who represent 26 tribes,” said Yuspa, a cargo agent in Reno with Southwest Airlines, which has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Honor Flight program.
According to Yuspa, the government is planning to build a memorial to honor the American Indian veterans, and he said the government would like their input.
For the past 18 mounts, Yuspa said Honor Flight Nevada has been busy organizing seven flights. Since the organization’s inception, Honor Flight Nevada has flown about 800 veterans aboard flights operated by Southwest Airlines, and Yuspa said that mark could reach 1,000 veterans by the end of the year.
“In five years of Honor Flight, I never thought it would grow this big,” he added.
Each and every Honor Flight, Yuspa meets veterans from different eras and different walks of life. He feels a close bond with each and every veteran.
“We know the veterans and their families and how it’s become a huge, extended family. I don’t have any grandparents, but I have 600 grandparents in Nevada,” he said with a grin. “I get to know all their stories.”
Not only does Honor Flight Nevada rely on the generosity of its donors, but also the various fundraisers. In addition to the chili cook-off, Yuspa said the organization has hosted golf tournaments, pancake breakfasts and events at Hot August Nights.
Raising money, he said, helps Honor Flight Nevada succeed with its mission. In organizing and flights and inviting veterans, he said the group tries to include the oldest veterans and least healthy first.
“The World War II vets know they’re at the end, and this helps them to write the final chapter,” Yuspa said.
He pointed a photo of an Honor Flight for World War II veterans and since the photo was taken several years ago, upward to nine vets have passed away.
Yuspa has been a tireless warrior in ensuring veterans live their dreams. For his efforts, he has received the President’s Award from Southwest Airlines and the 2016 Jefferson Award for Nevada from the Jefferson Awards Foundation.
Jim Bagwell, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force and is a retired Nevada sheriff, said he and his wife have conducted fundraisers to help pay the costs for a veteran’s caretaker. Bagwell is also supportive of the program and all the work that goes into every flight.
Once veterans leave Reno and change planes at Phoenix for the trip to the Washington, D.C. area, he said people honor the veterans by moving aside and thanking them for their service. Once at the Baltimore airport, the veterans receive additional recognition. For the next two days, he said, the U.S. Parks Service and law enforcement escort the veterans to all the memorials.
“Their memories are unbelievable,” Bagwell said. “People tell their stories on subjects they never talked about. It’s like a huge weight being lifted off each individual.”
When the group returns, he said the veterans are once again honored as they change planes before the final leg of the trip to Reno. A homecoming at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport adds a closure to the three-day trip.
Yuspa said the money raised from fundraisers and donations helps pay for the flight, meals, accommodations and tours.
While Honor Flight Nevada conducts fundraisers during the year, Yuspa said interested individuals may donate by going to the Honor Flight Nevada website, www.honorflightnv.org and select the appropriate topic on the menu bar. Yuspa’s telephone number and email address are also on the site: 775-323-9955 or Jon@HonorFlightNV.org.
Honor Flight Nevada is a 501© 3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization.