‘Every dollar goes toward a veteran’

Evening Lions learn about Honor Flight from founder Ron Newsum

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Ron Newsum, founder of the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight, speaks to the Fort Dodge Evening Lions Club Tuesday about the Honor Flights during their meeting at the Pizza Ranch.

Members of the Fort Dodge Evening Lions club enjoyed a local history lesson Tuesday night as the founder of the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flights told them about how the flights got started and what the future is looking like.

Ron Newsum, who not only founded the local chapter of the Honor Flights but is also a current board member, told the Evening Lions at Pizza Ranch Tuesday that it was all because of his father that the Honor Flights began locally.

The Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight takes veterans from different wars to Washington, D.C. for an entire day, where they see the memorials and monuments dedicated to their service.

Newsum, of Fort Dodge, said his late father, Clem Hentges, was a World War II veteran who served on a PT boat while in the U.S. Navy.

“I’d heard about the Honor Flight,” Newsum said. “I really liked the Honor Flight concept. I knew the only way we could get him to see ‘his memorial,’ or ‘their memorial,’ was by an Honor Flight concept.”

Newsum contacted the national Honor Flight agency to see about getting his father on a flight, and from there he got the idea to start his own chapter of the Honor Flight.

Thus the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight board formed in 2009, and the first flight was scheduled for May 1, 2010.

Newsum said his 95-year-old father was on that inaugural flight. His father died just three months later.

“In my mind, every flight we have is in honor of my dad,” Newsum said.

Originally, the Honor Flight only accepted veterans from Webster County and the six surrounding counties. But it didn’t take long for Newsum and the board to start receiving applications from veterans who lived outside the area.

“Well, how can you turn a veteran down because they don’t lie on the right side of the line?” he said. “The board made the decision that we would take veterans from any county, but we do expect the counties in which those veterans live to pony up for their veterans.”

He estimated that the local Honor Flight chapter has sent veterans from 55 counties and 211 communities to the nation’s capital.

It costs about $100,000 to get everything arranged for the Honor Flight, which includes securing the airplane, buying a hat, shirt and challenge coin for all the veterans, and the costs of the veterans themselves.

Newsum added that it costs about $600 to get a veteran on a flight. But the veteran does not pay for themselves. Instead, donations from the community are used to pay for the veteran’s journey.

The next Honor Flight, scheduled for Sept. 21, has already been paid for, Newsum said.

Including the upcoming 19th flight, Newsum said the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight has spent $1.9 million since 2010 sending veterans to Washington, D.C.

And none of that money has come from corporations. All the money comes from local donors.

“We especially feel proud about this,” he said. “Every dollar that we’ve received, whether from the Lions Club, or Sertoma, or Rotary, or wherever it might be, every dollar goes toward a veteran. We do not send any money to a state or national organization.”

He added that any money received from a county will go toward a veteran from that county.

The Honor Flight has gone through several changes over the years. For the first through fifth flights, only World War II veterans were eligible. From the sixth through 10th flights, Korean War veterans were added. And starting with the 11th flight, Vietnam War veterans have been welcome to participate in the Honor Flight.

Newsum said the flights will eventually open up to more veterans. In the not-too-distant future, Newsum said there are plans to open up the flights to veterans who served during the Cold War.

Additionally, Newsum said when the flights first started, they had someone accompany each veteran. This person was known as a guardian.

However, according to Newsum, there were some flaws with this arrangement.

Sometimes, a family member would serve as a guardian who happened to be a veteran themselves. But unlike the veterans, Newsum said the guardians had to raise their own money to go on the flight.

That wasn’t fair, so Newsum said, starting with the 11th flight, they switched to a “team leader” format.

“Basically the team leader makes sure the other team members are healthy, have water, if they need medical attention,” he said. “It’s a team effort.”

That switch has allowed the Honor Flight to take more veterans to D.C. as well. Under the guardian format, each flight could bring 95 to 105 veterans. Now, with the team leaders, Newsum said they can bring anywhere from 145 to 150 veterans per flight.

He especially enjoys seeing the reaction of the veterans when they arrive in D.C. and a crowd of hundreds welcomes them.

“I don’t care whether you’re a Vietnam veteran or a Korean War veteran or a World War II veteran,” Newsum said. “These veterans have never had a welcome home.”

He recalled a veteran on the second flight. Newsum described the man as “probably the last time he had a tear in his eyes was when his calf died when he was 12 years old.”

During mail call on the flight back to Fort Dodge, the man threw his glasses into his lap and began bawling into a handkerchief. Newsum said he was crying so hard, his body was shaking.

It turned out, the man had just read a letter from his 60-year-old son where he talked about how proud he was of his father. Newsum said the man had never heard his son say that about him.

That happened nearly 10 years ago, and Newsum said he’ll never forget it.

“These are the things that make the Honor Flight so important to me,” Newsum said.

At the conclusion of Newsum’s speech, the Evening Lions presented him with a check for $500, which will go towards sending a local veteran to D.C.