This Thursday, Rick, a Marine Corps Veteran, will board an airplane in Reno, NV on his way to Washington, D.C. He is one of several thousand Heroes who will travel to our nation’s capital this summer with Honor Flight Network. Rick and other Veterans of the wars in Korea, Vietnam and WWII have been invited to visit the memorials that commemorate their fallen comrades in arms, as well as their own service and selfless sacrifice.
At Operation Gratitude, we are proud to partner with Honor Flight Network by providing a small token of the American public’s gratitude and appreciation. Since March of 2018, Operation Gratitude has delivered 3,692 customized Care Packages to Honor Flight Veterans at 42 hubs in 25 different states.
This partnership with Honor Flight not only gives Americans everywhere an opportunity to express their appreciation, but also demonstrates to the Veterans and CareGivers who receive Operation Gratitude Care Packages that their service is appreciated. The emotional connection created between the public and those who have served so bravely is apparent in the responses we receive from the recipients of our Care Packages:
- Bob, a Navy Veteran from Peoria, IL, traveled May 8 on his Honor Flight with his neighbor Pam, who served as his guardian because he has no remaining family members. Pam wrote: Thank you for your generosity. He was thrilled with his box and really appreciated the handwritten card and the cookies! Bob said he’d never felt so appreciated and honored in his life!
- Rhoda, an 86-year-old Post-Korean War Veteran from Minnesota, wrote: I want to thank all the children, teachers, organizations, and individuals that donated the thoughtful letters and other items in my Care Package. This is my favorite item, the awesome folding sunglasses.
- Ken, an Air Force Veteran, is an Honor Flight recipient from Evansville, IL. His daughter wrote: Dad served in the Air Force in the Korean War. He was thrilled to receive a box of goodies to help us prepare for our big adventure!
This month, Kevin Schmiegel, CEO of Operation Gratitude, had the honor of meeting 106 Honor Flight Veterans as he represented tens of thousands of volunteers and supporters from across the country who contributed to our Care Packages.
“Since I retired from the Marine Corps in 2009, every time I meet one of these Heroes, I am humbled to be in their presence and hear their stories,” he said. “As I shook hands with each of the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans from Nevada, Illinois and Florida who had received an Operation Gratitude Care Package, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that many of them were experiencing the gratitude of the American people for the very first time.”
In one memorable case, a Vietnam Veteran broke down in tears when speaking with Kevin, telling him how much it meant to receive a Care Package, to read the letters inside, and to know that his service to our country is appreciated.
“As I hugged him, he told me through the tears, that it was appreciation he had never experienced since returning from Vietnam,” Kevin shared.
At the Iwo Jima Memorial, the monument dedicated to all U.S. Marines who have died in the defense of our country since 1775, Schmiegel also had the honor of meeting four WWII Marine Veterans, including Corporal Teddy Bayer. She enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after Pearl Harbor.
“A 20-year Marine Veteran myself, chills ran up and down my spine and tears welled in my eyes as I held Teddy’s hand and listened to her story and the other powerful stories I heard that day from our nation’s Heroes,” said Schmiegel.
This year, Operation Gratitude will deliver more than 25,000 care packages to Veterans, including more than 6,000 to WWII, Korean War and Vietnam Veterans traveling on Honor Flights. None of this would be possible without the dedication and commitment of thousands of volunteers who host collection drives, handwrite letters, knit scarves, or make donations to help us cover the costs of shipping nationwide. It is the gratitude of our volunteers that fuels the impact we are making collectively on individuals like Rick, Bob, Rhonda, Ken and Teddy.
As you prepare to celebrate Independence Day next week, know that this expression of appreciation through Operation Gratitude is making a difference in the lives of the men and women who have protected, as well as those who continue to protect, our freedom. With your help, in 2018, we will extend that gratitude to more than 300,000 of our nation’s Heroes across the country and around the globe by sending Care Packages to deployed Servicemembers and the children they leave behind, Veterans, new Recruit Graduates, First Responders, Wounded Heroes and their Caregivers.