LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bluegrass Honor Flight is a volunteer organization that flies World War 2, Vietnam, and Korean War veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the monuments created to honor their service, at no expense to them.
Jeff Thoke, chairman of the Bluegrass Honor Flight, says he's proud to be a part of the program.
"It’s special when you take a veteran to Washington and see their reactions and emotions," he said. "I get more out of it than they do.”
As of now, more than 15 of the 16 million men and women who served in the second World War are gone. Thoke, who is not a veteran himself, says only about 200,000 World War II veterans are left.
“When I see 98, 99, and 100-year-old veterans, I see my dad’s image,” he said.
Thoke’s grandfather flew with the French in World War 1. His father, Robert Thoke, who died in 1996, flew B-17 Bombers in World War 2.
Like the fleet of volunteers who make the Bluegrass Honor Flight a reality, Thoke works tirelessly to ensure veterans' stories are told. In doing that, he forms deep connections. These connections often come with an equally profound emotional toll. Jeff is a steady presence at funerals, sharing his respect and appreciation.
“We owe our veterans everything, and we are here because of them,” he said. “Think about this. In 1945, an 18-year-old would be 95 years old. That is your youngest legal age. We lose about 300 World War II veterans daily here in the United States. The 200,000 who are still with us are living history, and they’re not going to be around here very much longer, and it’s very sad.”
Thoke urges people to take the opportunity to offer thanks and appreciation to veterans while the privilege and opportunity exist.
“I always tell people, when you see a World War II veteran, go up and thank them for their service," he said. "Tell them that you appreciate what they did all those years ago because time is of the essence when it comes to honoring them because they are going to be gone soon, and it’s heartbreaking."
The next Honor Flight is scheduled for Sept. 7. Everyone is invited to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport that night to be part of the traditional Hero’s welcome. The Honor Flight team encourages you to arrive at 9 p.m.