- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - In ushering a group of elderly people around, even those who survived the horrors of World War II, life’s little indignities are bound to surface.

It’s a story that Bob Myer, president of Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, recalls with a smile and some affection.

After landing at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., for one of the group’s tours honoring military veterans, Myer was approached by a woman accompanying her father, one of the veterans on the trip. Incontinent, the elder man needed help in the restroom changing his pants.

No problem. Myer responded, and the vet rejoined the group shortly. The same request came later as the group toured the military women’s memorial. Myer again lent a hand. But this time the man wanted to assure Myer that his help was appreciated.

“He said, ‘You know, young man, I’m pretty impressed with the way you handled all that,’ ” Myer recalled. “He said, ‘You did such a good job, if you ever run for political office, I’ll definitely vote for you.’ “

It is a small aside among the many that have been shared by veterans and volunteers since Fort Wayne’s first Honor Flight in 2009. The group, one of more than 130 nationwide that fly vets to Washington for a free one-day tour of monuments built in their honor, will make its 19th and 20th flights this spring.

Myer, 68, has been with the group either as a volunteer or president since the third flight in 2010. He is an eager supporter, a 32-year Air National Guard veteran who used his connections to form a partnership between Honor Flight and Fort Wayne’s guard base at Fort Wayne International Airport.

Myer, who otherwise likes to hunt and fish in his spare time, coordinates a staff of 14 volunteers who spend hours poring over Honor Flight applications and making follow-up calls to vets and people paying to accompany them, often family members. About 1,160 veterans have taken the tour.

“I wasn’t out seeking anything,” Myer recalled of his first contact with Honor Flight. “I just thought if I could find something, I was kind of interested in something to do with veterans.”

Myer comes from a military family. His dad and three uncles are World War II Navy veterans.

A pilot with Fort Wayne’s 122nd Fighter Wing beginning in 1971, Myer flew F-100s, F-4 Phantoms and F-16s. While not deployed to a war zone, Myer said he had a brush with death in 1982. Flying as an instructor in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom during training in Arizona, Myer said he was forced to eject when a fuel leak started a fire. The pilot didn’t survive, Myer recalled.

He shared the story this fall with Jerry Yellin, a fighter pilot who flew the final combat mission of World War II and who went on an October Honor Flight.

The mechanics behind WWII ejections - Yelling told Myer he had bailed out of a plane - and those of modern aircraft helped connect the men over decades, Myer said.

“Just to be able to tell stories like that and just be around the guy and listen to his stories - I mean, that was unbelievable,” Myer said

Myer retired from the military in 2002. He has lived on Lake Tippecanoe in Kosciusko County since 2009. He was looking for volunteer work when a friend, who went on the first Northeast Indiana Honor Flight, told him about the group. Myer had never heard of it.

Talking to another man going on the second flight reinforced the idea that “You need to talk to Laura and get involved,” Myer said.

Laura Carrico started Honor Flight Northeast Indiana to honor her father, a WWII veteran. Carrico, who now lives in Crown Point, said the group couldn’t be in better hands.

“Bob with his military background and his contacts at the base was able to get the airmen at the 122nd involved, and that organization just flourished under him,” she said.

The program, with four flights a year, has progressed from a small plane carrying 50 people to a 186-passenger jetliner. Eighty-six vets fly free; 86 guardians pay $400 to go with them.

With each flight costing $65,000, community support has been tremendous, Myer said. Several individuals and groups give money.

One of the largest donations comes from American Legion Post 160 in Roanoke.

Tom Meyers, a Vietnam War veteran and a member of the Honor Flight board, helped start the Roanoke fundraising.

It began when some members of the women’s auxiliary and other post members volunteered on Honor Flights, he said.

“When we got done, it was ‘Hey, let’s have a benefit,’ ” Meyers said. “All I wanted to do was have a Swiss steak dinner.”

Instead, a concert with three bands raised about $12,000 its first year. The post has given about $100,000 total to Honor Flight in the five years it has raised money, Meyers said.

“It is unbelievable how the community organizations have gotten together to support us,” Myer said. “We plan on being in existence for several years. We’re excited about getting through the Korean vets and getting into the Vietnam-era vets. So if you need $1 million to do four years, that’s a lot of money to raise.”

Preparations for flights in April and May next year began Dec. 3. Myer said he spends about 20 hours a week on Honor Flight preparation during the busiest months leading to a flight. He said his wife, Sandie, works even more hours on the flights.

Applications, found at www.hfnei.org, are scrutinized, with WWII veterans given priority. Myer and other volunteers spend about eight nights, three hours each night, calling applicants to verify information. There are follow-up calls Myer and his wife handle. There are cancellations and seating adjustments that need attention.

There are orientation meetings to coordinate for guardian volunteers. Four tour buses in Washington are scheduled to drive from the airport to tour destinations and back. A motorcycle security escort was recently added to hurry things along.

Vets and their guardians are provided two meals during the day. A doctor is on every flight to attend to medical issues.

Myer’s admiration for the men and women in uniform is obvious. Volunteering for Honor Flight Northeast Indiana is his way of paying them back.

“Just showing them the respect and giving them the opportunity to see that WWII memorial, which took almost 60 years to build,” he said. “Just being involved in that whole process. And to tell you the truth, just being around those guys and hearing their stories and the gratefulness they show us and the humility.”

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Source: The Journal Gazette, https://bit.ly/1JgdbXo

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net

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