Brad Byrd: This is InDEPTH. One of the most heartbreaking stories we have reported this year is the impact COVID-19 has had on the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana. We’ve now learned 2020 will apparently be the lost year for the flight that takes our war veterans to Washington DC. Hundreds have had the chance to have a one day tour of the freedoms they defended. Not this year. Joining me live tonight is Joe Miller, the president of Honor Flight of Southern Indiana. Sorry to talk to you under these circumstances, Joe, and this has obviously been a very tough decision, these vets really look forward to this flight. Let’s talk about the emotion of that first.
Joe Miller: Well, you know, it’s a big emotional thing just on our side as well, the board members, all of our volunteers, it was a very, very difficult decision to make. But we just felt because of the uncertainty of where things will be August 22 first, when our next flight was scheduled, and then turn around just a few weeks later on October 3, we just weren’t ready to take that risk of exposing people to something that might be harmful.
BB: Joe, has this been a problem nationwide for the Honor Flight organizations? Because we talked earlier about the hubs that are being affected by this across the country?
JM: There are 130 hubs all over the country I think in 45 states, I’m not sure exactly how many states but part of it. I’ve been told at least 20 have already decided not to have any flights this year, and several more are up in the air on whether or not they should. We kind of took the stance since there won’t be a vaccine, or at least there’s unlikely to be a vaccine by that time, we wouldn’t be taking that risk and there are other hubs who are taking that same stance.
BB: So there is a possibility 2021 could be in doubt right now?
JM: I’d say I wouldn’t put it that strongly, but unless if there’s a problem developing a vaccine, and the virus is not under control, that is one of the things I always say that is something that could be on the table.
BB: Have you been able I know this was announced last night, that’s when I got the email, how do you reach the vets, the families and and the guardians to prepare them for this letdown?
JM: I know we’ve talked about it before, but we’ve got a strong core of volunteers. We’ve got bus captains, a person responsible for each set of veterans assigned to each bus. And the bus captains are making those phone calls so there can be a direct contact with the veterans instead of just seeing an email or whatever it might be. Fortunately, some have already discovered that Honor Flight network made the mandate of no flights until August 31 by looking at Facebook, but we didn’t make that official decision for ours until last night.
BB: And Joe, when you think about it, it’s just not the flight on that Saturday that’s involved with this. You have that meet and greet downtown at the Coliseum and that means a lot to the veterans and also that, that homecoming when they come into Evansville on Saturday night at Evansville Regional Airport, that has been an unforgettable sight to see.
JM: You know, that’s one of the things we were trying to figure out how to address that, if we would have had our flights, because we thought there might still be restrictions on gatherings and things like that. So you know, normally we’ll have 3,000 people at the airport, well, if you’re limiting gatherings and can’t be within six feet of each other, we would have been drastically reduced on that as well.
BB: I’m gonna phrase this question very carefully here, Joe, but I think you know where I’m coming from. When I covered the fifth Honor Flight back in 2016, about half of those veterans served during World War Two, how many World War II vets were possibly going to be going on this flight come August?
JM: I guess that’s a tough one for me to answer because I don’t know the exact number, but I think we had roughly five World War II vets who would have been making this trip. I think it’s kind of interesting because we do have one veteran we’ve continued to call and he’s always out of the country on our flight date. So he was one of those that may have been available on August 22, but when we call him for the May 2 flight, he was going to be over in I think Germany or Italy during that timeframe. So we do have a few of the World War II veterans but not many.
BB: All right. Well, Joe, our hearts go out to you the board and of course, those veterans, their families and the guardians who really serve an incredible purpose on these flights and hopefully, the wind will some time soon be at your back and we can get the wheels up for the Honor Flight in 2021. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.