“I will remember it forever.”

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Hamilton Township High School teacher Corey O’Brien (left front) and athletic department secretary Susan Sewell (right front) assisted the four veterans pictured with them during a March 28 Honor Flight Columbus trip to Washington, D.C.

Honoring the military has deep roots in Hamilton Township with such close proximity to a former active duty air base where Tuskegee Airmen took flight and B-52s once waited on the tarmac.

Today, honoring the military takes many forms and for one Hamilton Schools teacher and one Hamilton Schools staff member, they proudly joined a March Honor Flight Columbus trip transporting a group of veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit service and war memorials.

“My father retired from the Air Force after serving in Vietnam,” said Susan Sewell, the district’s athletic secretary and Hamilton graduate. “We based our roots here in Hamilton Meadows like a lot of military families did. I spoke with Judy McClelland, who has been a volunteer for Columbus Honor Flight for many years, and has a daughter who works here in the district. It was a great conversation and I couldn’t wait to fill out my application to be a Guardian.”

Guardians are volunteers who accompany veterans during the trip in the air and on the ground. In February, Sewell received an email from Columbus Honor Flights Executive Director Beth Johnson wanting to know if she was available for their March 28 flight/mission.

Hamilton Township High School teacher Corey O’Brien said Johnson also asked him to go on the HFC Mission 129 because he is a combat veteran and his dad was a Marine who served during Vietnam.

“My father passed away last year, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War,” said O’Brien. “Mission 129 was occurring over our spring break, so we wouldn’t miss any school. HTHS has already hosted a meeting for students interested in volunteering to become high school student Guardians for missions next spring. There is no charge for high school Guardians, but it is typically $450 for others to go as Guardians.”

O’Brien and Sewell participated in a Guardian training session at Honor Flight Columbus’ office two weeks prior to the mission. Their main responsibility was to attend to the needs of the pair of veterans in their care and take pictures.

Upon arrival at Ronald Reagan National in D.C., the entourage boarded private tour buses and proceeded to various locations, including the Air Force Memorial and the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) War Memorial.

At Arlington National Cemetery they watched a changing of the guards ceremony and continued their tour at the Navy Memorial, the WWII Memorial where they presented the only WWII veteran on the flight with a U.S. flag, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Women’s Memorial.

“It was a day filled with emotions,” said Sewell. “All of our Vietnam veterans received a pin from their Guardians—On Behalf of a Grateful Nation, We Thank You for your Service. I chose to ‘pin’ my veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial. It was a special moment and I will remember it forever.”

When the aircraft transporting the Honor Flight participants arrived back in Columbus much later the same day, they were greeted with a water cannon salute by fire trucks stationed on the flight line.

“Once we exited the airplane, we walked out towards baggage claim and we were greeted with the largest welcome home tunnel I have ever seen,” said O’Brien. “It was something our veterans never got to have when they came home all those years ago. Over 1,500 people lined all the way through the airport cheering all our veterans and waving U.S. flags and signs of appreciation. It was the most amazing thing I ever witnessed. They walked through a long line of cheering folks who made them feel valued, and acknowledged their service/sacrifice.”

Veterans also received mail bags filled with letters from family and friends and students. It is a practice Columbus Honor Flight organizes for each flight.

“Coming from a family with military background, this experience explained a lot of things that I might never have known,” said Sewell. “Being able to talk with my two veterans and hear about their experience in Vietnam was quite eye opening. We have to be able to tell their stories for the next generations. I wish so much I could have had this experience with my own father. I wore his dog tags on my trip so I feel like he was with me the whole day.”

O’Brien said the experience was amazing and emotional for him and he was thankful to be able to listen to stories told by the father and son duo—Don and Larry Lusk—he accompanied on the trip as a Guardian.

“They are incredible human beings, and being able to be a part of this journey with them was an honor,” said O’Brien. “My stepmom buried some of my dad’s ashes at the Vietnam Wall and at the Three Servicemen Statue. Being able to visit him a year after his death was difficult, yet meaningful.”

According to O’Brien, the high school invited Honor Flight Columbus to participate in their annual Military Appreciation Nights during boys basketball games and had student volunteers act as Guardian Assistants, who help veterans in wheelchairs when they return to John Glenn Airport.

“Students have written letters and made thank you cards for the veterans as part of the Mail Call experience of the Honor Flight Columbus event,” said O’Brien. “Funds were raised by selling military t-shirts and Starkiss popsicles from Obetz Dairy Queen.”

Money raised from popsicle/t-shirt sales was matched by Obetz Dairy Queen, which enabled HTHS to sponsor two veterans to go on a trip.

“Our commitment and dedication was not forgotten, and we’ve maintained our connection/relationship to Honor Flight Columbus,” said O’Brien. “Now that it is back up and running, Hamilton Township High School will be sending high schoolers to act as Guardians for Honor Flight Columbus for next year in the Spring.”

Honor Flight Columbus is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America’s veterans. The trips are free for any qualified veteran. More than 129 flights have transported over 9,300 veterans. The organization is funded by donations from various businesses, foundations, school organizations, and grateful Americans.

Applications are accepted from adults age 65 and over, who served at least one day of full time active duty, outside of any basic training active duty. For scheduling, top priority is given to WWII, Korea and terminally ill veterans.

Veterans are placed on a waiting list and are booked in the order in which their applications are received. For information, visit www.honorflightcmh.org or call 614-284-4987.

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