A TIME TO REMEMBER — Jim Hogben, Vietnam veteran, points to the Kansas monument in Washington DC. He is a recipient of the Honor Flight project that flies United States veterans to Washington DC to visit the National memorials honoring the nations veterans. Courtesy Photo
A TIME TO REMEMBER — Jim Hogben, Vietnam veteran, points to the Kansas monument in Washington DC. He is a recipient of the Honor Flight project that flies United States veterans to Washington DC to visit the National memorials honoring the nations veterans. Courtesy Photo

Jim Hogben, Cherryvale, never dreamed he would have the chance to be a part of the Honor Flight. 

The Honor Flight is product of a group of non-profit organizations dedicated to providing transportation to United States Veterans to Washington, DC to see the memorials of the wars the country has fought throughout its history. The trip is provided at no cost the veterans.

The Honor Flight was the founded in 2005 by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain and Jeff Miller, a business man and son of a WWII veteran. 

As a physician assistant at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic he saw many veterans, especially WWII veterans. He would often ask the veterans if they had ever been to Washington DC to see the war memorials and out of all the veterans he met with, none had ever been able to see them, or would ever be able to go. Morse decided to offer to fly a couple veterans to Washington to see the memorials and, after seeing the impact it had on their lives, he gathered a group of some 300 private pilots and proposed the idea of the Honor Flight. The pilots would pay for the flights for the veterans and personally escort them around the city. 

In May 2005, the Honor Flight took off using six small planes to fly 12 veterans to Washington, DC. By the end of the year, the group had flown 137 veterans to see the memorials. Inspired by Morse's vision, Jeff Miller saw the idea on a bigger scale and by 2006 the project flew more than 300 World War II veterans to Washington at no charge. 

Since the vision of the Honor Flight was realized by Morse and Miller, it has grown to include veterans from all branches of the military as well as the first all-female Honor Flight in 2015.

"I was in Wichita at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) for an appointment and, while I was in with the doctors, my wife, Shirley, was sitting in the lounge waiting when two men began telling her about the Honor Flight and asked her if she knew about it," said Hogben. As it turned out, the two men were the original coordinators of the Honor Flight. The men gave her contact information on how to apply to participate in a trip to Washington.  

Hogben, an avid miniature train enthusiast, was meeting with a group of other miniature train enthusiasts when one of the group's member told Hogben that he had obtained a seat on the Honor Flight out of Parsons. 

"He told me I should sign up for it, too," said Hogben. It didn't take Hogben long to fill out the application and soon afterward he received confirmation he had been accepted to go as well. 

Hogben believes it was fate that got him on the Honor Flight, as the flights are always booked up and seating is limited. "My friend got his seat after someone canceled their trip and then I got my flight after another cancelation. It was like it was meant to be for me and my friend," said Hogben as he grinned through his white beard. 

The day they left for Washington DC came at 12:30 a.m., May 21, out of Parsons when 28 veterans boarded the bus. "There were two World War II veterans, six Korean War vets and the rest of us were Vietnam vets. We all boarded the chartered bus and the Parsons police department gave us a police escort to the city limits when the 

Labette County Sheriff's Office picked up the escort to the county line where the next group of law enforcement vehicles escorted us to the next county line. This happened in every county until we came to the Kansas City International airport," said Hogben. 

As the group boarded their Southwest Airlines flight to Washington DC, they noticed a fire truck with its emergency lights flashing. "Our first impression was to think what's going wrong with our flight but as it turned out the fire truck pulled into position and as the plane taxied past they offered a water cannon salute to us," said Hogben. Not only did the airline pay honor to the veterans but the whole plane of civilian passengers erupted into applause in honor of each of the veterans on board the plane. "I couldn't imagine what I was witnessing. If the trip had ended there it would have all been worth it," Hogben said as he looked around the room. 

Hogben served in the Army in the Signal Corps as an instructor in Phu Bai, Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. "I was a senior in high school and a lot of us guys started to think we were going to be drafted and fighting a war in a country called Vietnam. We all began to make serious choices as to what we were going to do," Hogben recalls. One of the things Hogben did was to distance himself from any social life in the 12th grade. "I focused on working my a** off to get the highest grades I could. I figured this may be my legacy and if I died over there I didn't want to die with D's and C's as my final grades," Hogben said. 

Hogben recalls growing up through the Korean War at the ages of six, seven and eight years old. "We knew the signs of the country preparing for war. We had seen the newsreels when we went to the movies and early days of television. It was inevitable we were going to war," reflected Hogben. 

In October 1968, Hogben got his orders to go to Vietnam. He was entering a war that had taken a new turn with America's involvement. It was the height of the war and just after the Tet offensive. "I was stationed at Phu Bai, about 12 miles south of Hue City in north Vietnam, where the largest urban battle took place from Jan. to March 1968. Part of our perimeter was to guard our base from the enemy stationed in the A Shau Valley. 

"I went over with three instructors who were pulled from the instructor pool because the Army needed bodies so bad they were pulling people from everywhere. We were suppose to go earlier but we told them if they sent us, who would train all the people they were send to Vietnam. We got a delay of about three months before we finally had to go," recalls Hogben. 

When the Honor Flight plane arrived in Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Airport they boarded their tour bus to take them to Washington DC. "As the sun was coming up, we began our tour of the various memorials. When the bus driver found out who we were he went out of his way to get us to extra things to see that a normal tour would not," Hogben said. 

At the Vietnam memorial the group of vets were met by the School of Incarnation first grade class who handed them flowers made from construction paper before continuing their tour. Every two veterans had a guardian who were high school student volunteers from Parsons High School who escorted the veterans during the complete trip. "One of our highlights was these young people with their energy and humor," said Hogben. 

Hogben said he will always remember his trip on the Honor Flight. "It brought back a lot of memories and I made a lot of friends." 

The Honor Flight began in 2005. To this day, more than 180,261 veterans have been flown to Washington DC to see the veterans memorials and reflect on their service to their country. 

For more information on how to apply for the Honor Flight, contact: Mike Kastle, Honor Flight coordinator, 620-875-6380.