One by one, America’s greatest generation of war veterans is fading away, and Lou Carreras said Honor Flight Savannah wants to ensure local veterans don’t leave without a proper “thank you.”
“There are no more local World War II veterans able to make the (Honor Flight) trip to (Washington) D.C.,” said Carreras, Army Reserve ambassador for Georgia. “Their health prevents them from making the trip. In fact, we’ve lost a few since the last trip (September 2012). We’ve now started taking Korean War veterans.”
Carreras said Honor Flight Savannah was trying to make the trip twice a year, but lately they don’t have enough veterans. He said their local nonprofit organization was founded in 2008 by retired Navy Lt. Larry Spears and his wife Marian.
The Spears and area veterans Carreras, Tim Bulick and Paul Green soon started a program that would take WWII vets from Southeast Georgia to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial dedicated to their service. With help from local author Carol Megathlin and retired Air Force Col. Ed Wexler, they expanded the area into South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
With the support from local veterans groups, area businesses, and civic and fraternal organizations, Honor Flight Savannah made its inaugural flight Oct. 24, 2009. Three WWII veterans from Coastal Georgia and three from the Lowcountry made the first trip.
Since that time, Carreras said nearly 200 local WWII veterans representing all branches of military service have made the trip to Washington. They now travel via a charter bus, which is much easier on the veterans, who are all in their 80s and 90s. Previously, the flights took them from Savannah to Charleston to Charlotte and to Baltimore, with plane changeovers along the way, he said.
He said the bus rides are comfortable even for wheelchair-bound vets and those requiring oxygen tanks. The agenda still is packed, he said.
The next scheduled Savannah Honor Flight is scheduled to leave at 9 a.m. Sept. 6 from the 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia Air National Guard on Dean Forest Road in Savannah. Carreras said 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will be on hand to salute the 29 participants as they board the buses. That Friday will be used for travel, meals and resting, he said.
Saturday morning will begin with a tour of the World War II Memorial then a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial and Air Force Memorial. After lunch, they’ll visit Arlington National Cemetery and observe the “Changing of the Guard” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The rest of the afternoon will be spent visiting the Women at War Memorial, Korean and Vietnam War memorials and the U.S. Navy Memorial.
Late Saturday evening, the veterans will board the buses for the trip home. Carreras said it’s impossible to thank World War II veterans enough for the sacrifices they made in that war, but at least some of them will know a grateful nation still remembers what they did.
Carreras, who’s participated in two Honor Flights as a “guardian,” said the veterans continually are greeted and saluted by service men and women past and present, including general officers. He said all costs for each veteran are paid for via fundraisers and donations. The guardians, who usually are veterans, too, are volunteers who make the trips at their own expense solely to support and assist the veterans, he said.
Carreras retired from the Army after 21 years, then served with Fort Stewart’s directorate of logistics long enough to retire from civil service. Because of his many years of federal service, he feels compelled to honor other veterans, especially veterans of World War II.
“I was born in Cuba and arrived in 1948 with my parents and was raised in New York City,” said Carreras, who’ll celebrate his 72nd birthday in August. “My wife, Birgit, is German, and we both have a great deal of love for this nation. That is why I do all the volunteer work with the support of my wife, who is still waiting for me to clean the garage.”
He said he started his military career as an enlisted soldier in maintenance, then became a warrant officer and helicopter pilot. He ended his career as a commissioned officer in air defense. Despite two combat tours in Vietnam, Carreras has special respect for the generation of Americans who saved the world from Nazi domination.
According to www.honorflight.org, more than 600 World War II veterans die every day. Honor Flight started in 2005.