Veterans get a helping hand and a flight to D.C. from a Lexington rock band
On a warm Halloween weekend along the Kentucky River, sounds of a band doing a sound check can be heard outside Proud Mary Honky Tonk BBQ.
People, some in costumes, are streaming into the restaurant and bar just below Clays Ferry Bridge. They’ve come for barbecue and a serving of classic rock by The Five Below Band. “Check, check, check, one, two, three” comes the voice up on stage.
The band members are lead singer Shawn Black who manages heavy construction work at automotive plants, Dave Rich on guitar heads a radiation safety department at U-K, Vin Collins also on guitar is a technology coordinator at a middle school, the drums are pounded by Jeff Frohlich, an electrical engineer, and Dave Medley, a promotions director at a Lexington television station, multi-tasks on the bass and keyboards.
Their rock selections stretch from Prince to ZZ Top to John Mellencamp. But there’s something else they include in their nearly 3-hour show. Four years ago, the band began raising awareness for veterans and the Honor Flight. During a break in the music, Shawn Black asks for all veterans in the crowd to stand up and be recognized for their service.
Then he explains his connection to Honor Flight.
Three years ago, he and his dad, Don Black, boarded a chartered airliner from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport. Don did two tours of duty in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
Once in the Spring and twice in the Fall, a non-profit organization, Honor Flight Kentucky, takes veterans from mostly the Korean and Vietnam Wars to Washington D.C. for a day-long tour of war and soldier memorials. When the veterans arrive at Ronald Reagan International Airport, they are greeted by cheering travelers, bands, Boy Scouts, the West Point Glee Club, and football teams.
Shawn tells me, “We were blown away. As we flew into Ronald Reagan, and got off the airplane, there were people who were just flying in and out of the airport that lined up to shake hands. It was emotional. The guys were coming up and hugging dad and telling him they loved him. And how much they appreciated what he did.” Don adds “hundreds of people.
It sits in my mind as one of those things that can never be replaced. It touches the heart to see how many people or so many people, to show their appreciation for my service.”
That reception is very different from the one Don received in 1967 when he came home from the Vietnam War. The country was deeply divided at the time over the war.
“Walking through San Francisco International Airport, I was literally spit on by people. For the next 40, 50 years I didn’t even want to think about what I had done as a military person.” A day with Honor flight seeks to erase some of that pain. Keith Kidd is a volunteer with Honor Flight Kentucky which to date has flown a thousand veterans to Washington.
“It’s about getting these guys a welcome home, giving them a day, treating them like kings all day, feeding them all day long, having them welcomed home all day long, and then to come back into Blue Grass Airport where there’s family, church members, schools, civil air patrol, Boy Scouts. We bring them back into the airport with a color guard and also a bagpipes procession that comes in, so the Blue Grass Airport inside becomes a military parade.”
A typical Honor Flight has seventy veterans onboard, and each one has a guardian who pays $500 for their seat. The veterans have all expenses paid for. Kidd says each chartered flight costs about $100,000. Toyota Motor Manufacturing and East Kentucky Power each sponsor a yearly flight. For the third flight, they use donations from individuals and groups.
So far, The Five Below Band has raised over $10,000 for Honor Flight. Shawn Black says the money they raise at their shows goes directly to help the veterans in that area so if they’re playing in Southern Indiana, it stays there.
On Halloween weekend money raised went to Honor Flight Kentucky which covers veterans in Central and Eastern regions of The Commonwealth. Kidd says veterans can be nominated or apply themselves for a trip by going to Honorflightky.org.
He says there are about 625 veterans on a waiting list. Priority is given to older veterans and ones who have serious medical conditions. They are always looking for veterans from World War II, but most come from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Don Black says some veterans have a misperception about Honor Flight.
“I think there’s a lot of military people out there, that feel like they didn’t do anything, they weren’t in combat, and they don’t deserve to go on this flight. But this is for military people, it’s for all military people who were involved in service of their country.”
The next Honor Flight Kentucky is scheduled for April 22nd.
Listen below for Sam's extended interview with Kentucky Honor Flight volunteer Keith Kidd.
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