LAKE PLACID — A number of years ago, Polk County applied to have an Honor Flight program but was denied because nearby counties had existing programs. Instead, they began their own program, naming it “Flight to Honor.”
Last Tuesday, 85 veterans along with a guardian for each flew out of Lakeland Lender International Airport at 6 a.m. to spend the day visiting the war memorials in Washington D.C. This was the sixth flight sponsored by Polk County. The veterans trips were gratis, but the guardians were required to pay for their flight, which added so much to the veterans’ honor.
Three friends and fellow tennis players from Lake Placid were part of the group. They were retired U.S. Navy officer Montie Dowling (77), Vietnam veteran Bill Womer (75), and Air Force veteran Wes Powell (79).
During the flight each veteran was given a surprise packet that included thank you letters from school children, congressmen/women and their own family. Womer was emotional when he read letters from his three children, thanking him for his service to America.
The veterans visited the World War II, Vietnam and Korean Memorial. They stopped at the Lincoln Memorial and then took a tram to Arlington Cemetery to visit various gravesites of famous soldiers. They then watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Dowling was able to find the name of his high school friend killed in Vietnam engraved into the memorial.
Womer said, “It was a real honor to go. I never received any recognition for what I had to do.”
As they flew home they shared their feelings with each other. But the best was yet to come. When they landed back in Florida they were treated to a rousing reception. A contingent of over a hundred folks offered gifts and praise for their service.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd greeted each veteran. He was joined by the mayor of Lakeland, council members, members of Congress, a Boy Scout honor guard, a band and a group waving American flags.
The Polk County Ladies of the Lake made a quilt for each veteran. Each of the three also received a shirt, a wind breaker and a hat as a memento of the day.
The three young-in-heart Lake Placid men play tennis three times a week at the high school courts. They also continue to serve their communities by volunteering, knowing that their service to others on the battlefield and back home is what makes America the greatest country in the history of mankind.