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Honor Flights Give Veterans Camaraderie and Closure

Two men sit in the studio.
Charlie Schlenker
/
WGLT
Vietnam War veteran Larry Rigdon and Land of Lincoln Honor Flights volunteer Kevin Lancaster.

Larry Rigdon served in the Vietnam War as a radio operator directing helicopter supply drops. He had never been to his war's memorial in Washington, D.C.

Over 35 years after it opened, Rigdon got the chance to experience the memorial thanks to the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight in Springfield. They pay tribute to former service members by providing 80 to 85 veterans free transportation to the nation’s capital to experience the memorials honoring their courage and sacrifice.

“For a lot of these veterans, getting out there and seeing these memorials is very important to them,” said program volunteer Kevin Lancaster.

Lancaster says they raise money year-round to ensure the trips remain free for every veteran.

“We have so many generous donors. We do fundraising benefits and merchandise sales. We are a nonprofit organization, it’s all by volunteer work.”

Rigdon, seeing the Vietnam War Memorial for the first time, enjoyed being with other veterans and felt that dynamic made for a more impactful visit.

“A lot of people tell me that they’ve been out there on their own,” Rigdon said. “But it’s so important I think for the veterans to go as a group with other servicemen. It’s good camaraderie.”

For some, the chance to see monuments to their war and be with other veterans opens them up in ways they never had before.

“I’ve taken three Vietnam veterans,” Lancaster said. “I think once they see these memorials it’s a closure for them. My second Vietnam veteran … when he saw his buddy's name on the wall he was relieved. He told me that day he could finally be at peace.”

If you would like to celebrate current and former service members, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary is hosting a family freedom festival May 4 from 10-2 at the VFW post on Lincoln Street in Bloomington.

You can also listen to the full interview:

honorflight-long.mp3
GLT's full interview.

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.