KNOXVILLE (WATE) – HonorAir will be getting a major financial boost this year with the Smoky Mountain Air Show donating all of its proceeds from the event to the group that takes veterans on free trips to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.
“We started the program back in 2007. We took our first flight in October 2007,” said HonorAir founder Eddie Mannis.
A successful businessman in the area, Mannis learned of a program like this after visiting a friend in North Carolina. After watching World War II veterans react and sometimes break down seeing their memorial for the first time, Mannis knew he needed to make this happen in Knoxville, but he was only thinking one trip to DC and back.
“I thought it would be just one and done and it wasn’t. We had enough people for a second flight before we took our first flight,” said Mannis.
HonorAir’s flight on Wednesday, marking their 20th trip.
“We’ve never really had a problem finding veterans because it’s word of mouth a lot,” Mannis said.
It’s no easy task putting an HonorAir flight together. About 130 veterans are chosen for each flight and around 40 volunteer escorts are needed to help assist them. The volunteers actually pay their own way, and there’s always a medical staff on board. The plane is chartered and waiting for them in DC are chartered buses. Mannis says each trip costs around $60,000.
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Graciously, the community has helped fund these trips, but recently Mannis got word that the proceeds from the Smoky Mountain Air Show will go to HonorAir Knoxville.
“We’re grateful for anything. I think they’re expecting it’s going to be a significant amount of money. I think they have great hopes what it will be, and we certainly hope that it is, but big or small, we’re going to be thankful for whatever it is,” said Mannis.
Daniel Campbell is a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He has only seen a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial as a traveling exhibit when it stopped in Alcoa. Even when he made the trip to DC himself, the memorial was blocked from public access. The HonorAir flight will be his first time seeing the wall in person.
“It’s fascinating for me to have been honored. I feel it is an honor to get to go,” he said.
Campbell’s best friend, as well as his cousin and several members of his platoon were killed in action. His goal is to find their names.
“I think I have a history with the wall. I was wounded twice,” he said. “War is rough and you never know if you’re going to make it back or not. And I was one of the fortunate.”
Just like Campbell, Korean War veteran Al Hindman Jr. has never visited the war memorials in person. He’s only seen them on television.
“Every time I see it I kind of think back to Korea, you know,” Hindman said.
Hindman joined the Air Force at 16, retired at 38 and also worked for the UT Police Department. After a lifetime of service, he’s getting this special honor.
“I’m real appreciative of HonorAir, what they’re doing,” Hindman said. He said if HonorAir wasn’t around he doesn’t think he would be able to make the trip to Washington D.C.
That’s why founder and chariman Eddie Mannis says HonorAir is so important.
“I think our mission is preety simple: it’s to honor and serve men and women from WWII, Korea and Vietnam,” said Mannis. “I would think 98 percent of the people, the men and women that travel with us, have never seen the memorials.”
It costs roughly $60,000 to go to and from the memorials in D.C., so getting the boost from the Smoky Mountain Air Show ensures they’ll be able to continue honoring local veterans.
“We’re grateful for anything, I think they’re expecting it is going to be a significant amount of money. I think they have great hopes that it will be and we certainly hope that it is, but we’re going to be thankful for whatever it is.
If you know of a veteran who might be interested in going on one of these trips or you’d like to volunteer as an escort, just fill out a form on HonorAir’s website.