America's World War II Vets Fly for Free on Southwest Airlines

The official commercial airline for the Honor Flight Network renews commitment with $1.2 million donation

In his stand-up routine at New York's Beacon Theater in November 2011, comedian Louis C. K. explained what goes through his mind when he's sitting in first class on a plane and sees a soldier, who always flies coach:

"Every time I see a soldier on a plane, I always think: 'You know what? I should give him my seat . It would be the right thing to do, it would be easy to do, and it would mean a lot to him…I should trade with him.' I never have, let me make that clear. I've never done it once. I've had so many opportunities. I never even really seriously came close. And here's the worst part: I still just enjoy the fantasy—for myself to enjoy. I was actually proud of myself…for having thought of it! I was proud! 'Oh, I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me! To think of doing that…and then totally never do it.'"

Well, American servicemen and servicewomen may still not have the benefits of flying first class—certainly not Louis C. K.'s first class seat—but thanks to Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), many veterans will be able to fly for free.

HONOR FLIGHT: BRINGING VETS TO WASHINGTON, D.C.

Recently, the nation's largest carrier (in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded), announced that it has renewed its commitment as the official commercial airline of the Honor Flight Network and will provide $1.2 million in free travel through 2015 to help veterans visit the memorials dedicated to their service to the United States.

"Southwest Airlines is proud to continue our support of Honor Flight and to have the opportunity to give back to the people who have fought to protect our freedoms," said Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines Vice President of Communication and Strategic Outreach. "Every veteran should have the opportunity to visit the memorial that was created for him or her, and we are honored to be a part of fulfilling this dream."

Since being named the official commercial airline of Honor Flight Network in 2009, Southwest has donated more than $2 million, helping to bring over 4,500 World War II veterans to their memorial in Washington, D.C.

"Imagine standing at the base of a monument, and, for one silent moment, remembering a time gone by, friends that didn’t come home, and a cause greater than oneself," writes Laura Jackson, a senior specialist in Southwest's Culture & Communications group, whose own father was able to take an Honor Flight to visit his memorial in Washington D.C. last Veteran's Day. For many Veterans that is the experience and the joy of taking an Honor Flight to Washington, DC, to see the monument that was erected for their heroic service to our country."

FROM AN IDEA TO MISSION TO A MOMENT

The Honor Flight Network, conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and a retired Air Force captain, was launched in 2005 with a singular mission: Allow every World War II and terminally ill veteran to experience honorable recognition for their service by visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Morse had taken care of many veterans over the years, and it was his way of honoring them.

The inaugural "Honor Flight" took off in May 2005, when six small planes brought a dozen World War II veterans from Springfield, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. By August, the list of veterans who wanted to take advantage of Morse's program was so long that the only way to accommodate the growing demand was to invite the participation of commercial airline carriers. Since then, Honor Flight has given more than 81,000 veterans the opportunity to see the memorials erected in their honor.

It's a mission with some urgency. As Jackson notes, "Time is not on their side as it is estimated that there are 800 to 900 WWII Veterans passing each day." As of November 2011, there are approximately 1.7 million American World War II vets still living, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

"Because of Southwest Airlines' generosity and renewed sponsorship, thousands of World War II and terminally ill veterans will continue to have the opportunity to see the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice in Washington, D.C.," said Chairman of the Honor Flight Network, James McLaughlin. "The most often heard comment we hear from the veterans at the end of their Honor Flight experience is that this has been one of the greatest days of their lives. That is all the reward we need."

Louis C. K. and Earl Morse do share something in common: They both have shown, in their own way, that actions speak louder than words.

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NOTES

Louis C. K. Live at the Beacon Theater. November 2011.
PR Newswire. Southwest Airlines To Provide $1.2 Million In Free Travel For America's World War II Veterans. July 17, 2012. Accessed August 6, 2012.
Laura Jackson. Helping Make the Dreams of America’s Veterans Come True. Nuts About Southwest. July 17, 2012. Accessed August 6, 2012.
Ibid.
United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Fact Sheet: America's Wars. November 2011. Accessed August 6, 2012.
Ibid., 2.

image: Southwest Airlines Community Relations & Giving employee Amber Montelongo with Honor Flight veterans (Nuts About Southwest)