Kathy Irvine’s father never made it to see the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C., where his name is listed along with thousands of others.
The memorial was opened in 2004, but Irvine’s father Robert “Bob” Irvine died in 2000. He served three years in the United States Navy as a GM3/C aboard the USS Pipe Spring.
Like many veterans, Irvine’s father didn’t speak much about his time in the service, but he taught her a great deal about serving others.
“Dad instilled in both my brother and me, a strong sense of patriotism and pride in our country,” she said. “Today, I am still very proud to stand as our flag passes by and when the National Anthem is sung.”
Irvine, Grantham University student accounts specialist, has a framed picture of the USS Pipe Spring that her father received shortly after he was discharged. Under it is a caption that reads, “With honor, I served in WWII.”
Irvine cherishes these memories of her father. They, more than anything else, are what inspired Irvine to get involved with the Honor Flight Network of Kansas City – an organization that helps WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans visit the memorial in D.C. – something her own father was never able to do.
“The work I do for Honor Flight is in (my father’s) memory,” Irvine said. “I want to do all that I can to see that our veterans are honored for their service and sacrifices.”
Honor Flight Network transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit our nation’s war memorials. To date, 159,703 veterans have flown as part of the organization.
At Grantham, Irvine works in the Student Accounts Department, helping to ensure accurate and timely maintenance of student accounts. Because of Irvine’s father, Grantham’s mission of Serving Those Who Serve® rings true. She has been volunteering with Honor Flight for four years and currently serves as the volunteer coordinator for the Kansas City chapter.
“Our mission is to fly our veterans to Washington D.C., to visit and reflect at the memorials built in honor of their service and sacrifice to our country,” Irvine says.
This year, Honor Flight of Kansas City won’t be flying veterans to the WWII museum in Washington, D.C. Instead, the Kansas City chapter will be coordinating a “flightless” event at which veterans will get to relive the experience virtually. Designed for veterans who are unable to fly to Washington D.C., for medical or personal reasons, the Flightless Honor Flight will take place Nov. 11, 2016 at Union Station in Kansas City.
“It will be an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Honor Flight for these very deserving heroes,” Irvine said.
Irvine was involved with the first Flightless Honor Flight in Kansas City last year, which was only the second one anywhere in the country.
“All of our veterans should be honored, whether they are able to travel to Washington, D.C. or not,” Irvine said. “Our Flightless Flight last year was a wonderful day for our veterans and the community support was extraordinary.”
The year before that, Irvine flew to Washington D.C., with the group as a volunteer. It’s an experience she says she will never forget.
“My veteran was in a wheelchair and could only stand unassisted for short amounts of time. When we arrived at Arlington, the visitors were asked to stand if they could,” Irvine said. “My veteran looked at me and asked me to help him stand up. As I did so, my eyes filled with tears as he saluted our flag. I will never forget that day.”
This year’s Honor Flight will include a virtual tour of the Memorial. U.S. Navy Commander (Ret.) Everett Alvarez, Jr., will be conference calling in to address the group. Alvarez is on Grantham’s Board of Governors, was the first American shot down over Vietnam and was held as a prison of war for more than eight years.
“I never cease to be amazed at how much community support there is for our veterans and this has been so true with this event,” Irvine says.
The event will conclude with a mail bag presentation and welcome home celebration.
“The mail bag presentation is especially important,” Irvine said. “Every veteran is presented with a package of mail at the end of his or her flight. There are letters and cards from family, friends and people that they don’t know and probably will never meet. But each piece of mail expresses the gratitude of a grateful nation,” Irvine says. “Every veteran will tell you how much that mail means.”
The Kansas City area community is encouraged to gather at the main entrance of Union Station at 3 p.m. Friday, to give the veterans a warm welcome home from their “flight.” More details are available at grantham.edu/veterans-week or honorflightkc.org.