Brad Byrd In-Depth: Joe Miller, Paul Wheeler preview Honor Flight

On Saturday, October 21, more than 80 local veterans will take part in the seventh trip to Washington D.C. for Honor Flight of Southern Indiana.

World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans will be heading to our nation's capital to visit all of the war memorials. They will then be welcomed home with a celebration parade at Evansville Regional Airport which is scheduled to start at 9:15 p.m.

Brad Byrd sits down with Honor Flight of Southern Indiana President Joe Miller and Persian Gulf War veteran and gold bus captain Paul Wheeler to preview Saturday's Honor Flight and discuss the veterans who will be aboard.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: "And welcome to In-Depth. This Saturday will mark the seventh trip to Washington D.C. for the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana. World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans will be heading to our nation's capital to visit all the war memorials. I'm joined tonight by Joe Miller, the president of Honor Flight of Southern Indiana. Also Paul Wheeler who is a Persian Gulf War veteran and also a gold bus captain for this flight. A milestone for this Honor Flight, gentlemen. Why is the number 500 so significant with this flight?" 

Joe Miller: "Well, I guess just primarily the fact it's come up so quickly. We already have obtained 500 veterans who will be going to D.C. to see the memorials in their honor." 

Brad Byrd: "And Paul, I know you have been on so many of these flights. And as a gold bus captain, what is the makeup of this particular flight in breaking down the number of veterans that will be going?" 

Paul Wheeler: "Number of veterans that's going is 84. We've got two females going, 24 World War II veterans, two Vietnam veterans and the rest Korean veterans." 

Brad Byrd: "And many of the Korean veterans, some of them also served in World War II. Actually lined up to go back." 

Paul Wheeler: "We got a lot of crossovers that served in both wars in the era of both wars. And a lot of them actually served two branches of service. We've got Navy men and Army men, same guy." 

Brad Byrd: "And Joe, like me, you are not a member of the military. You have a passion for this. Why is that?" 

Joe Miller: "I do. I always have. What kicked it into gear was our older daughter, Emily, she went to West Point and she was in the Army for five years. She got deployed three times actually to Iraq and two times to Afghanistan. So, that's really peaked my interest for what our veterans have done for us." 

Brad Byrd: "And they stand watch and they watch our backs. And Paul with this being said, I was fortunate last year to go on that fifth Honor Flight to Washington D.C. And I remember the emotions of the veterans. It was mixed feelings for many of them. But I remember one of them when he walked into the World War II plaza area there, he just broke down and he said 'I have no words.' That is really an emotion that has bubbled up overtime." 

Paul Wheeler: "It has, and a lot of them will express it for the first time when they walk into that plaza. A lot of them haven't been out of Evansville since they left. We experience getting the veterans who have never been on a plane." 

Brad Byrd: "Yes, they got over there by boat." 

Paul Wheeler: "Yeah, they got over there by boat or bus or something. They've never been on a plane or flown, and it's an experience for them. If you don't know what it's like when you walk into that plaza in Washington, the reception that they get ... there are people there that are always there." 

Brad Byrd: "And Joe, as we see here, most of these veterans are using wheelchairs. And I underline the word 'using'. Many of them do not use wheelchairs in everyday life. The wheelchairs are a very important tool on this trip because of what is going to happen on Saturday." 

Joe Miller: "What could potentially happen is they might get tired. They might not want to walk anymore. We keep a wheelchair at least for every veteran whether they use it or not is their proragative, but we have it there in case they want it, in case they need it. The guardian that goes with them is in charge of it, so they are required to roll it around with the veteran even though the veteran's not using it. Yeah." 

Brad Byrd: "And let's those guardians, Paul. Those are people who have been working very, very closely with respective veterans. And it may be a son or daughter or perhaps a younger sibling. But those guardians, they form a team during this because you're covering so much ground in a relatively short period of time." 

Paul Wheeler: "And you get to know the veteran also. I have had the privilege and the honor pun intended of being a guardian on two of the seven flights. You get to know your veteran. You have to know them. I mean you know when they have to take their medications. You get to know some of their shows. You get to know how their kids came up. And if you're lucky, and I have been twice, you will get a veteran who will share things that he hasn't shared with anybody else." 

Brad Byrd: "And we know so many times particulary I guess World War II veterans, the greatest generation, who gave so much and didn't ask for anything in return. But many of the older veterans, they sometimes don't want to open up on what it was like in both of those theaters, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Those veterans that you've talked to, Joe, do they start to open up when they're all together or something like this?" 

Joe Miller: "I think this is what kicks them into opening up because a lot of family members mention that to us after the flight that their grandfather, mother, whatever had never talked about these things before. Once they've gone on this flight, all of a sudden they're really open and want to discuss it and let their family members know what it really was." 

Brad Byrd: "The one thing I noticed on the flight back home last year, Paul, was mail call. Why is that so important?" 

Paul Wheeler: "It was important time for them because lot of times mail call was the only communication they had with the outside world. You know, I was in the service for nine years, so sometimes I would get a backlog of mail, two or three weeks of mail at one time. It was all you got. You looked forward to mail call. And when you hear that music and that mail call go off in that high-pitched voice of whoever yells 'mail call', you know it's coming and you know the anticipation." 

Brad Byrd: "The flight is Saturday morning of course bright and early. I remember it was before dawn's first light last year as it always is. And they will be coming home to that homecoming. And Joe, that homecoming, I was honored to MC a couple of those out at Evansville Regional Airport. Phenomenal for what Evansville does and for what these veterans have done, and it is so deserved by these veterans." 

Joe Miller: "It's very impressive. The airport is really good at handling the people for us. We have a lot of volunteers who help coordinate it and everything like that. But the airport, Evansville Airport, Doug Joest and his crew, everybody goes out of their way to accomodate us." 

Brad Byrd: "Alrighty. Well, it will be a great flight, and we salute all of our veterans out there for the sacrifice they have made. And I guess these are the scrapbooks from all of the previous Honor Flights." 

Paul Wheeler: "The pictured books, yeah, we make one for every flight. And every veteran that goes is listed, and we have a program to do memorial posters also. There's sections on that." 

Brad Byrd: "And the meet and greet ..."

Paul Wheeler: "The meet and greet is tomorrow night. We'll feed everybody and have a good time and get our final marching orders." 

Brad Byrd: "That's at the coliseum?" 

Paul Wheeler: "That's at the coliseum. It's a close event, but we always have people outside cheering us on." 

Brad Byrd: "I remember perfect strangers saying 'Thank you' in Washington D.C. to these vets. Okay, thank you for being here tonight. Have a safe flight, a good flight, and it should be a bright and sunny Saturday." 

Paul Wheeler: "Thanks for having us. And we still need World War II veterans especially females. I'd love to get a bus load of females and take them. Bring them to me. Contact us." 

Brad Byrd: "Evansville's contribution has been great. Joe Miller and Paul Wheeler, thank you so much."

For the latest breaking news and stories from across the Tri-State, follow Eyewitness News on Facebook and Twitter.

(This story was originally published on October 18, 2017)

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