“It’s a life-changing experience. It makes you proud to be an American,” Honan said. One of three physicians on the 27th Greater Peoria Honor Flight, he took time May 23 from his schedule at Carle Health Pekin East on Griffin to help military veteran passengers with any medical needs. The day of thanks to the veterans included visits to memorials, letters of appreciation, and a welcome home celebration.
The idea of going on the trip evolved from discussions by members of the board overseeing the Michael P. Honan II Memorial fund. Dr. Honan’s son, Michael, died in a 2011 car accident on Interstate 74 and the family created the fund as a way to turn pain into doing good for others. Fund overseers distributed $80,000 so far with this year’s recipients including a luncheon and commemorative coins for veterans participating in the May 23 Greater Peoria Honor Flight.
Typically, two physicians are on each flight but with 70 wheelchairs planned for the May flight, Greater Peoria Honor Flight organizers decided to add one more physician to oversee health of the veteran travelers. Dr. Honan accepted the offer.
Four World War II veterans were among the 75 total veterans, which also included those who served in Korea and Vietnam. The flight also carried 75 guardians who each pay $500, 25 volunteers and three physicians. The plane left at 7 a.m. and returned about 10:30 p.m. the same day.
Honan said one person had hypoxia (low oxygen in blood tissues) and there were a couple of falls, a couple of lacerations, but it was also important to ensure everyone stayed hydrated.
A physician for 29 years, Dr. Honan said the experience was unlike any other and he would recommend it to physicians interested in participating.
“Small children would walk up to veterans in their wheelchairs and shake their hands, veterans could touch the names of some of their buddies inscribed on the Vietnam memorial and the passengers received cheers from adoring supporters at the airport when they returned,” he said. That was particularly moving for those who served in Vietnam and returned home to anger and ridicule, Dr. Honan said.
“For veterans it is emotional. It just felt very patriotic,” he said.