Getting Honor Flight Southern Arizona's first charter in the air - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Getting Honor Flight Southern Arizona's first charter in the air

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tucson News Now) -

On this Veterans Day, we stop to honor and thank those who have served our country, each in our own way.

One Tucsonan, a veteran himself, trained for months and rode his bike nearly 500 miles so he could help local veterans get the recognition they earned.

It was no ordinary ride.

Troops returning home are often met by parades, fanfare and grateful Americans.

But in the 1940s, they stepped off ships and troop trains back onto American soil, put their uniforms in the closet and their memories in the back of their minds, and went right back to work.

One group in Southern Arizona is working to change all that.

"As soon as I stepped off the plane, I had a vision," said Aaron Wilson, a Tucson real estate agent.

Wilson was heading home from a business trip last fall when he had a stroke of luck.

"I sat next to a guy that, actually, he could hardly hear anything that I was saying," he said. "But there was a bond there."

That "guy" was a World War II veteran, and as Wilson found out, he was on an Honor Flight.

"I knew I needed to get involved in something like this," Wilson said.

The Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit organization with more than 130 hubs across the country, offering free trips for veterans to see the memorials dedicated in their honor.

They started because veterans of World War II didn't get their own memorial until nearly 60 years after their victory. By that time, many of them could not travel to see it for medical or financial reasons.

Now, the Southern Arizona hub is one of only five in the nation that still have hundreds of World War II veterans awaiting their trips.

"It's phenomenal because it doesn't only impact the veteran, it impacts the community," Wilson said. He knew what he had to do. "I said 'I'm going to do something, and I want to do something big.'"

He started fundraising. Then, in July, he and his team rode their bicycles across the state of Iowa as part of RAGBRAI, with all proceeds going toward Honor Flight Southern Arizona.

They raised enough money to send nearly 30 veterans to Washington, D.C., at $1,000.00 each.

But that wasn't the end.

With a matching grant from the Honor Flight Network, plus the group's other fall trip all ready to go, Wilson helped kick into gear the group's first chartered flight: 77 veterans and 71 guardians and leaders.

"It's probably one of the most humbling things I've ever been able to be a part of,"  Wilson said.

To find out how you can help, visit www.honorflightsaz.org.

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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