ANTHEM – In a few weeks local veterans, James Gaines, and Myron Carstensen, will fly to Washington, D.C. making their final tour with the non-profit organization Honor Flight, visiting war memorials that recognize their sacrifice and service along with their fallen comrades.
Honor Flight provides American heroes with closure by transporting veterans for free to the U.S. Capitol so they can visit war memorials for reflection and healing, as many have never had the opportunity to visit the very memorials made in their honor. Top priority is given to senior veterans, especially World War II survivors and those that are terminally ill.
Over 20,000 Word War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans are on Honor Flights waiting list each year and are chosen through an application process, according to the organization’s website.
Gaines and Carstensen applied to the Honor Flight Solo Program with the encouragement of staff and neighbors at their senior living community Merrill Gardens in Anthem. About one-month-ago both men found out they were chosen, and it’s no wonder that these extraordinary men were given priority by Honor Flight.
Gaines served in the Navy during WWII from 1944 to 1946, and was honorably discharged as a First Class Seaman. He was an aircraft repairman in WWII, which still fills him with pride, especially considering that only the top percent of the class were chosen for that role.
“It felt pretty good,” Gaines says of being selected as an aircraft repairman during the war, while noting that only 2 out of every 300 men tested were chosen.
“It makes me feel very proud,” Gaines says about being chosen for Honor Flight.
Carstensen served in the Army during the Korean War from 1953 to 1955 doing radar repair. He did basic training in Texas and finished 26-weeks of electronic training in New Jersey. Then he returned to the Southwest supporting training at Fort Bliss, while also repairing radar systems.
“I felt lucky that I never had to go into combat,” Myron said humbly.
Carstensen is modest about his service and about being chosen for Honor Flight, expressing he was surprised that no other veterans were chosen from Merrill Gardens. But he is excited that he will finally see the WWII Memorial.
“I am real honored to represent veterans,” he said.
When asked if the two men plan to go to any bars while they are gone to relive their younger days, both laugh and get a little twinkle of mischief in their eyes. Their answer, well that is off the record!
The men leave early in the morning on April 16, visiting memorials in the Capitol all day on April 17, then returning home on the afternoon of April 18, at Sky Harbor Airport on a Southwest Airlines flight.
Youth for Troops has ceremonies planned that include a flag line for the men’s departure and return home and is inviting members of the community to participate in celebrating.
The organization will be outside of Merrill Gardens from 6-6:15 a.m. the morning they leave to send off the veterans by holding a flag line of at least 20 American flags (they have the capacity to bring more flags with more confirmed volunteer support) as they depart for the airport.
“Our events our for ages 0 to 120, all ages are welcome. It’s early, before school, so we invite the community to come out and send them off with us,” said Tonya Piatt a spokeswoman for Youth for Troops. “It’s a great experience because the vets don’t always expect it, and some think that they don’t deserve it.”
She says that Youth for Troops supports Honor Flights on a regular basis, usually by welcoming home recipients at the airport just outside of the security gate with a flag line and signs, while singing patriotic songs. But when the Anthem-based organization found out they personally knew the recipients of the Honor Flight they were thrilled and knew they wanted to organize a proper send off for Gaines and Carstensen.
“It’s a really unique experience,” Piatt said. “I am just so excited about it!”
Anyone who would like to participate in the ceremonies can sign up for the event on Youth for Troops Facebook page. The organization encourages people to register ahead of time, but members of the community are welcome to show up without registering as well.
“Every day we can be doing something to honor our veterans,” she said.
To register for the send off event visit: https://volunteersignup.org/LT33B. To register for the return event at Sky Harbor Airport visit: https://volunteersignup.org/BJMYC. For more information about participating in other Honor Flight return events in the future with Youth for Troops visit youthfortroops.org or email Youth4Troops@gmail.com.