PHOENIX — Every year, a program gives military veterans from all of America’s wars the opportunity to take a flight to Washington D.C. to visit the war memorials in the area.
The trip is designed to bring healing to the vets, many of whom suffer from PTSD and other disabilities.
Operation Freedom Bird was the idea of Pat Lynch, who served in Vietnam. When he returned home, he wanted to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
“I wanted to go to the wall on Veteran’s Day. But not by myself. I wanted to go with the people that I served with,” Lynch said.
He approached the president of what was then America West Airlines with the idea. The airline provided the flight for the veterans.
“And so, we went with an airplane of 50 people, and we’ve been doing it now for the past 27 years,” said Lynch.
Lynch said there are lots of stories from the experiences they have had on the trip, but one sticks out in his mind.
During an appearance on KTAR News’ Arizona’s Morning News Weekend show, Lynch recalled an encounter at the Vietnam Wall between a veteran and a nurse who had worked in a MASH unit in Vietnam.
“He looked at her, grabbed her as she passed, pulled her down, and said ‘Ku-Chee ’68, MASH unit,” Lynch said. “She said ‘How did you know?’ and he said ‘I remember your eyes.’ She had saved his life.”
In recent years, Southwest Airlines has been helping to provide flights back to D.C. for the veterans.
The next Operation Freedom Bird trip is scheduled for November 9-12. As always, 50 vets will be going. Their plane tickets will be taken care of, but the group needs to raise $4,000 for hotels and meals.
You can help make that possible by making a donation at operationfreedombird.org.