Just three months after undergoing open heart surgery, Sharon Smith led the Kiwanis Club of Old Town Clovis in hosting nearly 250 people at the second Central Valley Honor Flight Reunion.
The brunch, held at Clovis Veterans Memorial District, gives veterans and their guardians who went on Central Valley Honor Flights 9 and 10 in April and June a chance to see each other again and reminisce.
“On May 11 I had open heart surgery, and the doctor who took care of me was an avid reader of WWII information and an enthusiast,” said Smith, who will soon be installed as the president of her service club. “When I told him about the event I did last year, he was so interested. I told him, ‘You get me better and I’ll make another event.’ ”
Veterans are close to Smith’s heart. Her father was in the Army and was called to Italy during WWII. He continued to do secret work as a scientist for the government for 30 years following his service, Smith said.
“The veterans deserve our recognition for their service and our Kiwanis Club of Old Town Clovis is 100 percent behind it,” she said. “We cooked all the food, did the invitations, we work with the Honor Flight. The servicemen are so appreciative; we hope to continue these reunions.”
In the last two Honor Flight trips combined, 131 WWII or Korean War veterans, including seven women veterans, flew to Washington, D.C. to visit the monuments that memorialize their sacrifices.
Central Valley Honor Flight president Al Perry expressed his appreciation for reunion.
“It’s wonderful for these people to get back together,” he said.
Perry entertained the crowd with a list of numbers pertaining to the trips.
“I’m not a numbers guy, until I’m a number guy,” he said with a smile.
Those facts and figures included:
▪ 1,350 — “swag” items (caps, jackets, t-shirts and duffle bags) ordered, sized and sorted for veterans of those two trips.
▪ $360,420 — money raised for the two trips, from 420 donors, including private citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations
▪ 308 — Allegiant Airline seats reserved for the veterans and their guardians
▪ 320 — hotel rooms booked at a Hilton near the Capitol
▪ 1,800 — meals provided to the veterans and their guardians during the two trips
▪ 35,880 — steps taken by the veterans over the three-day trips
▪ Zero — falls with injuries after 10 successful flights
▪ 6 — medical emergencies taken care of by the Honor Flight’s four-member medical team
▪ 1 — emergency landing in Central Valley Honor Flight history
▪ 1,350 — letters and cards collected and snuck onto the plane for 160 pounds of mail call
▪ 160 — sailors in dress whites who welcomed the veterans back home at Fresno Yosemite International Airport
▪ 2,000 — estimated crowd of family, friends and fans welcoming the veterans home in the airport
▪ 94 — letters, cards and calls received from the veterans after the last two Honor Flights, thanking the organizers for the trip of a lifetime.
“Some said, ‘That was the welcome home I never got,’” Perry said.
How to help
Central Valley Honor Flight sends WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their monuments. The flights are funded by community donations. To donate, visit www.cvhonorflight.org.