Five years ago, Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart helped organize the first official Arkansas Honor Flight, taking World War II veterans on a one-day trip to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials, including one built and dedicated in their honor.
Saturday, May 3, will be the 11th and final Arkansas Honor Flight. Including this trip, more than 900 World War II veterans have taken part in the Arkansas program since it started in 2009. Due to the advancing age and diminishing number of World War II veterans, the flights from Arkansas will no longer be offered, the companies said.
More than 80 veterans will fly via charter jet from Northwest Arkansas to Washington D.C. and back free of charge. The group will include veterans as old as 98 years who will tour the memorials during the day.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to help organize these trips,” said Bill McKenzie, director of aviation for Tyson Foods and a Vietnam War veteran, who has coordinated all 10 previous flights. “They call our World War II veterans the ‘greatest generation.’ There’s no greater satisfaction than getting to know these veterans, hearing their stories and seeing their faces when they see the memorials. It has given me an even greater appreciation for their service to our country. I’m also thankful for the positive feedback we’ve received from their families.”
Flight organizers encourage the public to be at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport terminal at approximately 7:45 p.m., Saturday evening, to be part of a special return reception for the veterans. The reception will include a color guard and patriotic music by the Rogers Heritage High School band.
“We are honored to once again support the Arkansas Honor Flight this year,” said retired Brigadier General Gary Profit, Walmart’s senior director of military programs. “These veterans bravely served our country, and they should know their service is still very much appreciated and recognized. It’s a privilege to be able to help bring them to our nation’s capital.”
A group of “guardians,” who include family members and volunteers, will fly with the World War II veterans to provide assistance during the trip. Organizational support for the flights has also been provided by Tyson Foods’ Veterans Business Resource Group, which includes military veterans employed by the company
“Attending the return reception Saturday night is a great way to show your support and thanks to these veterans who served our country so well,” said McKenzie.