Shutdown doesn't ground flights
By RANDY GONZALES
Government shutdown or no government shutdown, the scheduled Kansas Honor Flight will go on.
Today, World War II veterans from Kansas and their support staff were scheduled to fly out of Wichita and Kansas City, Mo., to see the monuments in Washington.
On the first day of the government shutdown Oct. 1, the memorials honoring the country's veterans were closed. However, the gates were opened to allow access for a group of veterans.
Before the shutdown, the Kansas Honor Flight already had scheduled today through Friday for 26 World War II veterans to make the trip to the nation's capital. Kansas Honor Flight President Mike VanCampen said he doesn't expect any problems on the trip, despite the shutdown.
"We don't think anything super major" will be a problem, VanCampen said. "First of all, we have been given a pass by the National Park Service to allow honor flight groups to go into the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial. Those are all blocked off to the general public right now.
"Arlington National Cemetery is in normal operation, and we will be going there late in the day Thursday. ... We will be doing a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown (Soldier)."
Doyle Beamgard, Hays, and Wilbur Albers, Ransom, were scheduled to be part of this week's honor flight.
Albers, 89, was born in Hargrave and was in the Merchant Marine before serving in the Navy during the war. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii a year after the Japanese attack in 1941.
Albers will be accompanied to Washington by what the honor flight calls a guardian, someone to help him during the tour. Albers' guardian is Tim Straub, a Vietnam veteran; he convinced Albers he should go.
"I had a buddy that talked me into it," Albers said. "I can't hardly see, but I might take my camera. I got binoculars that help some."
Helping veterans see the memorials is what gave birth to the Kansas Honor Flight last year. The Kansas hub is one of 117 in the country.
VanCampen said the trip is free to veterans once they arrive at the airport. Air fare, accommodations and meals all are paid for through public donations. Veterans can fill out an application for a tour at kansashonorflight.org. There is one remaining fall trip, with a few spaces remaining. After that, the next trip is scheduled for spring 2014. The first priority are veterans from World War II, followed by veterans from the Korean conflict and then Vietnam.
VanCampen is relieved the trip will go on as scheduled.
"I'm very happy that we're going to be able to see those memorials," he said. "The fact is, for our World War II and Korean veterans, these guys are getting old. At their age, to go through another winter, you simply don't know.
"They may get to see it now, or never see it."