There are many programs to memorialize and thank our veterans, but only one, Honor Flight, takes them to those shrines erected in their honor at the nation’s capital.

On Tuesday, veterans from World War II, Korean and Vietnam Wars were honored at the Owensboro Sportscenter by community members before hitting the road to Louisville to join other Kentucky veterans on a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to take in the monuments honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This one marks Owensboro's 13th flight and the largest group of veterans yet, especially in regard to Vietnam veterans, said Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain.

"This is the inaugural Vietnam year and this trip will be focused on those that served in the Southern Republic of Vietnam," he said. "The focus has been on World War II veterans in the past, but we are unfortunately losing more and more of them each day. We began transitioning into Korean War veterans and then more seats opened up for our Vietnam veterans. There has always been an interest by our Vietnam veterans, but they were on standby, except for a veteran with a terminal illness, (and then) they are moved to the top of the list."

This year's flight was financed through a $25,000 sponsorship through Old National Bank, which allowed the Owensboro wing of the Bluegrass Honor Flight to obtain additional seats and bring in more of those on the standby list, Cain said.

"Like many businesses, they sought us out and wanted to be a part of it," he said. "Sam Taylor and Sarah O’Bryan took it to their board and it was approved without question. We don’t fundraise, these organizations come to us and that is the reason that I am so proud to serve in this community. We discussed them sponsoring a flight in its entirety and they wanted to do it."

For Cain, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, this year's trip will be especially memorable because it will afford Vietnam veterans the opportunity to experience the honor and appreciation that many didn't receive when they arrived home, he said.

"It is wonderful because many of those veterans were never able to experience what they are about to experience," he said. "The honor and the recognition and love that they are deserving of and there will be a lot of that. Many of these veterans have never been to 'The Wall.' It is an emotional experience and it has been an honor for me to escort some of them to it. It will be a roller coaster of emotions, laughs, good times and painful memories, particularly when we approach that wall. It is very cathartic and I hope it will be the case for these gentlemen also."

While Cain has attended all but one of the 13 flights, some, like retired Army veteran Henry Brighthop, will be going for the first time. Brighthop is an oddity among the 29 veterans participating in this year's flight given that he is a veteran of all three wars being honored.

"I was always lucky in being in the wrong place at the right time," he said. "I feel really good about going, I just wish that I would have gone earlier. The ones I really want to see are at Arlington and the World War II memorial. Yes sir, I’m proud of my service.”

Vietnam Army veterans Kenneth Bowlds and Roger Bowlds, who are not related, are traveling to see the Vietnam Memorial for the first time and feel honored to be a part of it, Kenneth Bowlds said.

"I’m glad they are doing what they are doing for the veterans," he said. "For those that came home and those that didn't."

The Honor Flight Network was cofounded by Earl Morse, the son of a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, and Jeff Miller, a small business owner and son of a WWII veteran. The program had its first flight in 2005 and has 130 hubs in 45 states. It has flown 222,133 participants since the program's inception in 2005.

For Cain, each trip in Owensboro's 10 years of participating has been unique and unforgettable, he said.

"I can tell you that every one is different, unique and extremely rewarding," he said. "It is one event that I look forward to participating in every year. You truly have to experience it to understand. Without exception, it is indescribable from the moment that we leave Owensboro to when we return. Through every aspect of this trip, these veterans get the thanks and admiration that they deserve. That is Honor Flight."

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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