Honor Flight organizers made a difference

Posted by Bryan Henry  -  bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Roscoe Williams is the first to admit he didn't have a clue how to put together an Honor Flight.

"How were we going to pay for it?" Williams wondered.

Neither did Joe Mathis.

"We looked at each other and said 'where will the money come from?', said Mathis.

Prattville dentist Ed Mullins is used to fixing and cleaning teeth, not preparing a plane-load of aging but battled-tested war veterans.

"We all had our doubts," said Dr. Mullins.

It started in the fall of 2007.  Three men determined to make it work and it did.

"Most meaningful thing I've ever done in my life," said Williams.

3 years and 4 flights later Roscoe Williams, Joe Mathis and Ed Mullins stand just days away from putting together their final flight plan for the River Region's last Honor Flight. That's because there aren't any more large groups of veterans to take to Washington, D.C.

Honor Flight flies the vets to see their own World War Two memorial, many for the first time.

Much like the veterans and guardians who made the previous trips, 84 veterans will make this journey along with more than 50 guardians. The final flight is less than two weeks away.

"It's just grown and grown," said Williams.

Yet the three founders will tell you they didn't do it alone. They were told up front by Earl Morse, the man who started the country's first Honor Flight in Ohio:

"The community buy-in will be the key to your success," said Mathis.

The communities in the River Region did more than buy into it. The Honor Flight organizers say they didn't have to do one fundraiser by themselves.

"No hotdog sales," Williams said proudly.

Money for the flights which cost around $60,000 a piece came from schools, prisons, businesses and the general public. It was almost a collective 'thank you' to the men and women who many believe helped saved the world from tyranny.

"It changed the way I look at life, the hardships and sacrifices they made," said Williams.

Although there is no comparison, the founders sacrificed their own time to make the Honor Flight program happen. Joe Mathis is the only one of the three who's retired.

Bryan: "What kept you going?"

"The faces of the veterans," said Dr. Mullins.

The faces that always portray the emotions of seeing their own tribute, something just for them in the nation's capital.

"I'm overwhelmed," said a war veteran on one of the earlier trips to the monument.

There were a few glitches along the way but you'll hear no regrets.

"I wished we had done it sooner," said Mathis.

"Thrill of a lifetime,' said Dr. Mullins.

The thrill comes to an end on the night of August 21st.

"It will extremely emotional," said Williams.

Roscoe Williams will go back to running his Prattville hotel. Dr. Mullins will continue his 42-year career as a dentist. That leaves Joe Mathis with the most time on his hands to remember.

"I still have veterans come up to me and say 'hey, you took me to Washington!' Oh, yea. Oh, yea," Mathis said with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

Since the first Honor Fight nearly 3 years ago, 12 veterans who made those trips have passed away.

By the time the last Honor Flight rolls around in less than two weeks some 700 veterans will have made the journey to see their monument in Washington.

If you know of someone who is making a difference in their community email Bryan Henry at bhenry@wsfa.com.

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