The journey of a lifetime for America’s Veterans

Honor Flight Network, including Mid Michigan chapter, has arranged trips to DC war memorials for 250,000 vets

The Veteran asked to see the names of those who died in 1968.

With a volunteer at his side, he walked past thousands of names, listed chronologically by the date of casualty, until he stopped at the year he sought, carved in black granite. He wasn’t looking for anyone in particular; he just wanted to see the names of those who perished in Vietnam while he had served there. The people who lost their lives fighting for their country, right alongside him.

This Veteran is one of more than 250,000 who have traveled to Washington D.C. with the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit with 128 hubs across the United States. The organization gives Veterans of the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam and other military action the experience of visiting the war memorials in Washington, DC—at no cost to them.

“We all believe in the mission of honoring our Veterans,” says Jim Swoboda, a volunteer with Mid Michigan Honor Flight (MMHF), based in the village of Mecosta, near the center of the state. “They deserve the opportunity to go back to Washington and be honored by those who see them there, and to see the monuments and memorials that were built to honor what they did.”

A photographer, Swoboda has been on 35 honor flights since 2014, documenting the experience of more than 1,000 Veterans from 51 counties around the Great Lakes.

On his most recent flight in the spring of 2022, two honorees were Second World War vets—and both over 100 years old. One was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

“These men and women are living history,” he acknowledges with reverence.

Veteran reflecting at war memorial Mid Michigan Honor Flights volunteer Jim Swoboda: America’s veterans “deserve the opportunity to go back to Washington and be honored by those who see them there, and to see the monuments and memorials that were built to honor what they did.” Photo courtesy Jim Swoboda.

Honor Flight hubs rely on community support to raise funds for their trips. Each Mid Michigan trip, for example, costs roughly $140,000, which covers the cost of a chartered airplane, buses and food.

Since mid-2021, Enbridge has awarded Fueling Futures grants to MMHF totaling $5,000 to support the hub’s DC-bound honor flights. We recognize the importance of fostering civic and national pride in the communities where we live and work.

The impact of these honor flights is evident in Swoboda’s photographs. They show Veterans forever changed by the honor flight experience. They capture men and women in moments of remembrance, reflecting on the years that have passed since their experience in war. They show volunteer guardians supporting the Veterans by being there for them. Listening to their story. Holding their hand. Bearing witness to their bravery, their reminiscence, their life.

The trip “allows the Veterans to open up, and start letting (the memories) flow,” Swoboda says. “It’s a healing thing for them to be there. It truly is.”

When the MMHF group returns home to Mecosta after a full day in Washington, there’s a homecoming celebration with the whole community—an event that attracts hundreds of people waving flags, thanking the Veterans for their service, and showing pride for their citizens and country.

Swoboda encourages anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 to get in touch with their closest Honor Flight hub to volunteer as a guardian on one of these life-changing trips.

He says he can’t summarize the power of Honor Flight any better than one Veteran—one of a quarter-million—who has visited the DC war memorials: “She said, ‘I had no idea when I got here that I would be leaving with my soul finally at peace.’ ”

(TOP PHOTO: As of May 2022, the Honor Flight Network has arranged trips for 250,000 Veterans to war memorials in Washington, DC, at no cost to the vets. Photo courtesy Jim Swoboda.)