83° F Thursday, July 31, 2014

By Brad Stutzman
Austin Community Newspapers

While their heroic deeds were many, their numbers now are few, as America’s World War II generation slowly vanishes.

But one nonprofit continues to honor that era’s surviving servicemen and women, taking them on two-day, all-expense-paid trips to the World War II Memorial and other Washington, D.C. sites.

John Spahr, a Georgetown resident and vice chairman for Honor Flight Austin, visited the Williamson County Commissioners Court April 23, talking about his organization and a planned Saturday trip to D.C.

“We still have a lot of World War II veterans out there. We have a lot of them in Williamson County,” Spahr said. “One of the biggest problems we have is finding our veterans. There’s no list of veterans that you can look on the Internet for.”

Honor Flight Austin — which relies entirely on donations for support — serves a five-county area, taking in Williamson, Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. The organization has previously taken World War II veterans on Washington trips, with a June 2012 excursion consisting of 25 vets, ranging in age from 86 to 98. All World War II veterans – whether they served overseas or at home – are eligible to participate, Spahr said.

Saturday’s entourage of 34 veterans was scheduled to leave from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 12:30 p.m. and arrive at Reagan National Airport later that afternoon.

Spahr said a number of stops are planned in the capital, with the highlight being a visit to the World War II Memorial. Located on the National Mall, the memorial opened in 2004 and is dedicated to World War II veterans, including the more than 400,000 American who died during that 1941-45 conflict.

Spahr said the war produced about 16 million veterans, but, 68 years after its end, fewer than 2 million are still alive.

He said in recent years, reports state the U.S. is losing about 900 World War II veterans every day. That’s currently down to 684 who die each day — but only because there are fewer of them left.

“Time is not our friend here,” Spahr noted. “They are all in their mid-80s to 90s. Within five to 10 years they’ll all be gone.”

Spahr, who himself served in the Air Force from 1965-68, said previous Honor Flight trips have proven to be both enjoyable and emotional. Also, safety is emphasized.

“One requirement is that every veteran is [transported] in a wheelchair. We don’t want anyone tripping or falling and ruining their trip,” he explained.

Upon arrival from Austin, veterans and those who make the trip with them spend the night in Washington before getting an early start the next morning.

“Lights out is at 10 o’clock,” Spahr said. “Which usually means we can find five or six of them down in the bar, telling stories.”

After touring Washington on Sunday, this contingent of area veterans is scheduled to return to ABIA Sunday night.

“It’s a long two days [but] no one is tired when they get home,” Spahr said. “Everyone is fired up.”

He said Honor Flight Austin has had success locating Georgetown’s World War II veterans, but could use help in finding vets in the county.

Williamson County Veterans Services Director Donna Harrell told commissioners her organization is looking for a community member to serve as a liaison between veterans and Honor Flight Austin.

“We’re doing it on a temporary basis until we can find a permanent liaison,” Harrell said.

Those interested in helping can call Williamson County Veterans Services at 943-1902.

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