Tahlequah Daily Press

Online Exclusives

April 17, 2014

Oklahoma Honor Flights history

TAHLEQUAH — The true origin of Oklahoma Honor Flights can be traced to the 16 million United States men and women who served their country in World War II (between 1941-1945). One such individual was Al Willoughby, who proudly served in the United States Army Air Corps. Al was a native of Georgia but following his retirement from the United States Air Force, he adopted Midwest City, Oklahoma as his home.

In June of 2009 Al excitedly told about a moving “lifetime” experience that he had just encountered. He and his son-in-law, Joe Sparger, had been invited to travel to Washington, D.C. with a group of World War II veterans and family members. The trip was sponsored by Dallas Honor Flights, an official hub of Honor Flights Network, Inc., Springfield, Ohio, which began in 2005 with a mission to provide an expense paid trip for World War II veterans to see their Memorial.

Al and his daughters, Janet Anderson and Sherry Sparger, shared his story with many people. During the summer of 2009, with the inspiration of Al’s experience and the effort of his daughter Sherry serving as a call to action, it was decided that our Oklahoma World War II heroes should not have to go to Texas to be honored for their world saving heroics.

Requirements for an Oklahoma Hub with the national organization were identified and met, meetings were held, a website was created, local volunteers were recruited, an IRS-recognized organization was secured, and Oklahoma began taking care of her World War II veterans. An endorsement letter from Senator Tom Coburn was received. In November of 2009 Governor Brad Henry held a press conference in the Blue Room at the State Capitol Building (with Al Willoughby in attendance) urging all Oklahomans to support the effort to honor Oklahoma World War II veterans in this special and unique way.

During the first two years of existence, OHF successfully conducted five flights with the inaugural mission taken in May of 2010. The second flight was taken in October 2010. In 2011 three flights were taken–May, June (Tulsa), and October. Those five flights took 502 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the national memorial in honor of their service and sacrifice. All of this was made possible by school students, individuals, civic organizations, and corporations numbering in the thousands who have freely given their time and money to say “we remember and thank you.”

With the assistance of volunteer committees in Tulsa, Lawton, and Oklahoma City three trips in seven weeks were taken on Arpil 18, May 4, and June 6, 2012. Flights were also taken on Sept. 12, Sept. 25 and Oct. 24, 2012.  OHF took four flights in 2013 to honor Oklahoma men and women who helped change the world 65 to 70 years ago.

With the completion of the Oct. 8, 2013 flight, OHF has taken 1,433 World War II veterans on 15 flights. There are more than 75 World War II and 115 Korean War veteran applications on file awaiting this opportunity for all in Oklahoma to express thanks for their service and sacrifice.

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