- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Frostbite damage to his feet during World War II and a limp from a stroke prevented 81-year-old William Taylor from taking a commercial flight or driving to Washington to see the nation’s new memorial to heroes of that war.

But Mr. Taylor managed to get there anyway.

He flew via Honor Flight — a program of free flights for World War II veterans, started by a former Air Force pilot.

Once a month, a caravan of small planes filled with veterans and flown by volunteer pilots makes its way from Springfield to the nation’s capital and returns the same day.

If not for Honor Flight, Mr. Taylor probably would have never seen the memorial.

“I just sat there and looked at it. You just couldn’t believe that you were there,” he said. “It was really breathtaking.”

The program was set up by 46-year-old Earl Morse of Ohio, who worried that physical or financial limits were keeping World War II veterans from making it to Washington. He saw that many were dying before they got a chance to see the memorial.

Pilots use their own planes or sometimes rent them. The program relies entirely on donations, with veterans groups contributing toward some expenses.

Since the program began in the spring, 132 veterans have flown on the Honor Flights, and there is a waiting list of 257. The flights have become so popular that Mr. Morse quit his job last month to devote himself to the project full time.

“You get bitten by this, and you can’t think of anything else,” Mr. Morse said. “The window itself is good for another five to 10 years. After that, it’s going to be a moot point because they’re all going to be gone. This is their last hurrah.”

Mr. Taylor, who got frostbite when he spent six months in a prison camp after being captured during the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge, thought that being able to walk only short distances would exclude him from flights. But Mr. Morse ensured he was on the first flight in May, and even found wooden boxes for him to step on to get into the plane.

“I was overwhelmed,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Morse has suspended the flights until April because the cold weather can be a hazard for the small planes and because there is less daylight for the flights.

Demand has been so great that Mr. Morse began buying seats on jetliners flying out of the Dayton airport. He calls those Guardian Honor Flights, because he sends guardians to help the veterans tour the memorial.

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