An exciting and perhaps emotional trip to Washington, D.C., will be a little shorter for many Polk County veterans next month.
The first Honor Flight from Lakeland’s Linder Regional Airport will take off Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Col. Gary Clark, USAF retired and chairman of the Polk County Veterans Council, talked about the historic flight last week with members of the Daughters of the American Revolution during their meeting in Bartow.
In the past, those taking part in the Honor Flight, which flies World War II veterans to visit the World War II Memorial, have had to travel to Pinellas County to fly out of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
There will be 80 veterans on the flight, with 79 from Polk County. The other veteran is from Highlands County.
Clark said those involved with Honor Flight have a “great relationship” with Allegiant Airlines, which provides an airplane for about $10,000 cheaper than other airlines.
“They don’t fly on Tuesday so that is why the aircraft are available on Tuesday,” he said. “That is why we fly on Tuesday.”
Clark said it costs about $75,000 to do a flight.
Each of the 80 veterans is accompanied by a volunteer who is called a “guardian.” The guardians pay their own way, a minimum of $400 each, for a total of $32,000.
The council had to come up with the difference. Clark said during a meeting about the flight there was some doubt whether they could raise that much money.
“I said, ‘Sure we can,’ I know this community,’ ” he said. “We put out the word and we raised over $37,000 in 10 days.”
Clark added there were people who came forward and said “if you come up short, let me know. I will make up the difference.”
Clark suggested that people who want to donate can do so through the Community Foundation. The donation should be labeled “Honor Flight.” The DAR chapter in Bartow donated more than $100.
Clark said a second flight from Polk is being considered to be held in conjunction with Sun ‘N Fun in April of next year.
It is a just a one-day trip with the flight returning from Washington, D.C., in the evening of Nov. 12.
“A big homecoming” is being planned for the veterans, according to Clark.
“My goal is have to at least 2,000 people out there when they come back,” he said.
ROTC kids will be participating. Clark added that he is trying to get the Lakeland Concert Band involved.
There will be an orientation for veterans and guardians. It is scheduled to begin at noon Nov. 10 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakeland.