When the April 25 Honor Flight took off from the Grand Aire hanger at the Toledo Airport, Jody O'Millian of Tiffin was aboard as a guardian. He was paired with Harry Sanders of Montpelier and accompanied the former World War II Seabee during the all-day trip to Washington, D.C.
O'Millian said he applied to become a guardian in January and was called to report for a training session for the April trip.
"I don't know why I got on so quick because there is a waiting list for guardians. There's no shortage of them, but they're running out of vets," O'Millian said.
A 1985 Mohawk High School graduate, O'Millian is an Air Force veteran. He was trained as an aircraft mechanic and crew chief. He spent nearly six years in Japan before being transferred to Germany in the early 1990s. For three years, he worked in Moody, Ga., followed by nine years at McGuire AFB in New Jersey. He served 1985-2006.
"Twenty-one years, three months, 23 days," O'Millian said.
He now works part time at Jolly's.
O'Millian said he had visited Washington, D.C., with his parents as a high school junior, but he had not seen the newer monuments, so he was enjoying the trip as much as the older participants.
Every Honor Flight begins with a send-off breakfast for the travelers and their families. Children create placemats for the breakfast, and each veteran receives a T-shirt, hat and disposable camera.
O'Millian said Grand Aire has purchased a wheelchair ramp and donated it to Honor Flight.
"They started getting this big airbus, a 737. They had a lift but it was taking forever, one at a time. So Grand Aire bought that and donated it," he said.
With a 9 a.m. departure, the group arrived in Washington in time for a box lunch. Then everyone boarded motorcoaches for stops at the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. The timing allowed them to see the changing of the guard twice.
After that, the travelers stayed on the bus for a driving tour past the other monuments and the Pentagon.
The April trip included five female veterans. O'Millian said one man required a lot of help to get on and off the bus, but the volunteers made sure he was taken care of. The plane has an oxygen generator on board so no one has to carry portable oxygen during the flight.
In Washington, a wheelchair is available for every veteran.
"The guardian hangs onto it or pulls it behind if they want to walk," O'Millian said. "The guys that can walk, toward the end of the day, they appreciate having it. They don't have to watch where they're stepping. They can enjoy the view and look around at everything while the guardian pushes them."
Two brothers, Eugene and Werner Martin of Bellevue, gave high marks for their trip. Both used the word "fantastic" to describe their experiences.
A Navy vet who served 1944-45, Eugene said he had only waited six months to be accepted for Honor Flight. He had serviced planes in the Philippines during World War II.
"I was on a sea plane base. They were PDYs and PDMs. We serviced them on our little island that was only a mile long and a half-mile wide." Eugene said. "There was a Seabee bunch there with us to build the Quonset huts and stuff like that."
The Honor Flight was his first trip to Washington D.C., and he got to see it with his son, Greg, as his guardian.
"It was fantastic. I never dreamed there was something like that around, but it's great. That outfit does a wonderful, wonderful job," he said.
Werner Martin also was able to have his son, Michael, as his guardian. It was the first trip to the nation's capital for father and son.
Having served in the Army 1946-48, Werner was part of the occupation forces on the southern island of Japan. Like his brother, Werner said every World War II veteran who is able should sign up for Honor Flight.
Mike Martin was pleased at the opportunity to see Washington, D.C. with his dad.
The trip included so much to do, no one was ever bored, he said.
"They have that down to a science, as far as taking care of the vets, making sure everybody's safe," he said. "The cool part was hearing the stories, because my father was never one to talk about his time in the service. He shared a lot of stories. We laughed and had an amazing day."
As a bonus, the space shuttle Endeavor was sitting at the airport atop a jet that had transported it from Florida. The pilot was given permission to taxi the Honor Flight plane past the vehicle to give the veterans a closer look.
The next Northwest Ohio Honor Flight is May 23. Three Bellevue vets are signed up to participate: Carl Sidoti and brother, Albert and Stephen Valko. Lloyd Kieser of rural Tiffin also is on the list.