Honor Flight program canceling flights due to financial need

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PLATTE CITY, Mo. — They’ve been dubbed “the Greatest Generation” — the Americans who fought in World War II.

More than 500 of them have been transported by the Kansas City chapter of one national organization to view monuments in Washington DC — especially the World War II Memorial. Now that program needs money to keep on with its work.

Ralph Shackleford, 95, served his country in World War II, and his Platte County residence reflects his service. Treasured photos and mementos are proudly displayed in every nook and cranny.

Shackleford was drafted in 1943 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge against the Nazi Army.

In 2008, Shackleford visited Washington and the memorial dedicated to the World War II effort. He was one of 500 veterans in the metro who have flown using the Honor Flight program, which is meant to reward veterans at no cost to them.

“It’s their last chance to see it,” Shackleford said when asked about his fellow WWII vets. “If they can get on the Honor Flight, it’s really worth their time if they get to go.”

But the program is grounded, according to its president Erin Winstead. She says it costs as much as $70,000 to charter a commercial airliner for the trip to Washington. As it stands, Winstead says there isn’t enough money to fund the next flight, which was scheduled on June 6.

“It’s a matter of funds, and getting them in a timely manner to book charters,” Winstead said. “We want to make sure everyone who wants to go can go.”

Winstead says World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 800 per day. She stresses that all donations go toward the veterans and are tax-deductible. She says it’s upsetting to see the program with an uncertain future.

“It’s heartbreaking to make that call, and you’ve found out that a World War II veteran who’s been on the waiting list for a year or two has passed away,” Winstead said. “That’s one more opportunity we’ve missed.”

Winstead mentioned that donated money goes toward airfare for the veterans — not their escorts or guardians. Anyone who accompanies the vets on the honor flights is asked to pay their own way.

Check our Honor Flight KC’s webpage.

Follow Sean McDowell’s travels via his FOX 4 KC Facebook page.

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