DeGRAFF – Area veterans who have never been to the veterans memorials in Washington, D.C. can visit them at no cost to them.
Logan County Vets to D.C. is a nonprofit group that aims to get area veterans who have never been to the memorials there to see them. Though the group is based in Logan County, it also will accept veterans from other counties such as Champaign and Union counties. The next trip is May 13-15.
Group President Scott Stewart formed the group after doing something similar in Shelby County.
“There’s a lot of interest,” he said. “A lot of counties don’t do anything like this. I’m hoping to spark some interest in other areas.”
The group is similar to Honor Flight, which flies veterans to the memorials. The difference is Honor Flight tends to only take a day to fly the veterans to the memorials and bring them home, while Logan County Vets to D.C. takes a day to drive to Washington, D.C., with multiple stops, spends a day at the memorials and takes another day to drive back, organization member Larry Lattimer said. Honor Flight has a long waiting list, so the local group hopes to get through the demand of veterans wanting to see the memorials.
Stewart got involved because, though he didn’t serve, he said he felt more recognition needed to be paid to veterans.
“I’m not a veteran; I’ve always felt like I didn’t do my part,” he said.
The trips only focus on the memorials; the group does not visit other points of interest like the Smithsonian Museum, Stewart said.
“This trip doesn’t consist of anything other than showing these veterans that we are truly trying to honor them,” he said.
Each veteran can take one companion, whether it is a spouse, family member or friend. The organization takes a number of volunteers to help veterans around Washington, D.C. It also takes nurses and emergency medical technicians to help with medical issues. The group takes approximately 100 people per trip – approximately 30 to 35 veterans, their companions and the volunteers. The group takes wheelchairs to help veterans and their companions get around Washington, D.C. if it is needed. The volunteers make sure each veteran has health concerns addressed.
The veterans are not charged for the trip, though companions and volunteers pay $250 for bus travel, hotel room and meals.
The group invites veterans of the World War II, Vietnam and Korean eras, whether they served at those sites or not. To be eligible, a veteran must have been honorably discharged. Veterans, their companions and volunteers must fill out an application.
The week of the trip, the group hosts a dinner for the veterans, companions and volunteers. At the dinner, details will be ironed out and itineraries distributed. Nurses will meet with the veterans and review information.
The send-off is planned to be large, Stewart added. On that Friday, a ceremony attended by local officeholders will highlight the veterans’ sacrifices and duty. The buses will leave with a motorcycle escort, and locals are encouraged to line the streets and wave U.S. flags.
“For these Vietnam veterans especially that got a crappy welcome home, that got spit on, this is a chance for people to give these guys that never got a welcome home a welcome home. It goes a long way in healing for a lot of these guys,” he said.
The cost of the trip is about $30,000, Stewart said. They will do more than a trip a year if there is enough money to do so.
Even if a veteran does not make it for the upcoming trip, the application will be kept for the next one.
Logan County Vets to D.C. will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Logan County recycling building. Those with questions or seeking an application are encouraged to attend. Deadline for applications is April 1. Applications can also be downloaded from the website (www.vetstodc.org).
The group accepts contributions. Stewart said Logan County Vets to D.C. is all volunteer, so all donations go directly to the veteran trips.
For more information, call Stewart at 937-407-6766 in the evenings or visit the website.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.