35 Central Texas World War II veterans, including Texas’ oldest living veteran, are flying to Washington D.C. today as part of the Honor Flight program.
The flight leaves Austin Bergstrom International Airport at 12:30 p.m. after a ceremonial send off from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. Honor Flight Austin Chairman Allen Bergeron, a flight nurse and one guardian per veteran will also be on the flight. The trip is just one day, but the itinerary is packed with memorial visits and a trip to Arlington National Cemetery.
Of the estimated 1,000 WWII veterans in Central Texas, Honor Flight Austin has taken 170 on the journey. City spokesperson Patricia Fraga says “the goal is to get everyone to DC to see the Washington WWII memorial before these people leave the planet.”
At 107 years old, Richard Overton is the oldest living WWII veteran in Texas, if not in the whole U.S. Despite his travels around the world while in the U.S. Army, Overton’s trip to Washington D.C. today will be his first.
Overton’s wife passed away 18 years ago. He lives alone in his East Austin home, but says he does have a “lady-friend” and many friends at his church. His secret to longevity, he says, is a baby aspirin a day and maintaining his home with chores like mowing the lawn.
He laughs and adds that a bit of whiskey now and then helps, too.
Overton has lived in East Austin since returning from service after WWII. In his lifetime, he has seen many changes in Austin and the world. From segregation and the civil rights movement to the election of the first African-American president.
Of the 35 vets, most are in their 80s and 90s. To ensure their safety, the organization has an in-flight nurse and wheelchairs are provided to all vets.
Honor Flight Austin is part of the larger non-profit organization, Honor Flight Network, which operates around the country. The flights are provided by Southwest Airlines and the trip is free to WWII veterans who apply and are physically able to participate.
This spring, Honor Flight Austin has made two trips to Washington D.C., with four more scheduled for the fall. In total, they’ve made four flights since they were established last year. All WWII veterans are eligible to apply, though preference is given to those who are terminally ill.
The organization fears time is running out. Honor Flight Network estimates that close to 1,000 WWII veterans are dying each day, according to their website.
The Austin chapter of the organization wants to include Korean War and Vietnam War veterans in the future.