A Redhawk's Honor Flight

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. (ret.) Terrence G. Popravak, jr.
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History
Despite the fact that World War II was the largest conflict in the nation's history, for many years there was no memorial to the men and women who served our country in that global conflict. This included the men who served in Oregon's first aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, known at the 123rd Fighter Squadron today.

The 123d was federalized in 1941, redesignated as the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (35PRS) in 1943, and deployed to China in 1944 for combat operations lasting until the end of the war.

More than 60 year after the start of the war, in 2004, the World War II Memorial was completed in Washington, D.C. Alas, many veterans of the Second World War had already passed away; the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates some 640 World War II veterans pass away each day in the United States. Given this situation, in 2004 Mr. Earl Morse, an Air Force veteran, came up with the idea of flying WWII veterans to Washington D.C. for free, all expenses paid, in order to see their memorial, veterans who at this latter stage of life might never have the chance to see it otherwise.

Thus was born the idea that grew into the Honor Flight program. The first official Honor Flight took place in May, 2005, and through the end of 2012 more than 98,500 veterans have been transported to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial. The program presently has a network of 127 hubs in 41 states and is doing its best to get as many WWII veterans as possible to see their Memorial.

Honor Flight Austin, of Austin, Texas, serving a 14-county area, arranged for an Honor Flight mission in early November, 2013, aided by citizen donations and other Veterans-related organizations. The Lakeway/Lake Travis Standing Military Committee, led by fighter pilot Rod Kelly, Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.), pledged to raise $40,000 to help fund up to 34 veterans to make the sojourn to Washington, D.C. The flight was operated via sponsor, Southwest Airlines.

Mr. H. Allen Larsen, who served in the Photogrammetry Section of the 35th PRS, recently made an Honor Flight sojourn to the WWII Memorial from his home in Lakeway, Texas. It was the Honor Flight Austin's 12th mission, and ninth of 2013. Mr. Larsen is proud of his wartime service as a Redhawk in the 35th PRS, as part of General Chennault's 14th Air Force "Flying Tigers."
He regularly contributes information and even some artifacts from his military days to the 123d Fighter Squadron, helping the unit learn more about its WWII heritage. Mr. Larsen recently co-authored a book with William L. Dibble showcasing many of photographs of life in wartime China; published as "China in the Eyes of Flying Tigers, 1944-1945," they captured many scenes of historical value.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Mr. Larsen traveled with the others from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for Washington, D.C. His flight landed at Ronald Reagan International Airport and from there arrived at the Hilton Alexandria for dinner and rest overnight.

On Nov. 2, the busy day started with a visit to the WWII Memorial, where the veterans were finally able to view the memorial built in their honor. Mr. Larsen recalls, "We were received and honored during the World War II Memorial tour by a formal presentation of the colors and greetings from Colin Powell who shook hands and had conversations with members of our whole delegation."

Following the WWII Memorial viewing, came a tour of the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, followed by a watching of the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Four veterans in the Lakeway delegation of the Austin Honor Flight, including Allen Larsen, were selected to present a wreath of honor during the visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

This was followed by a visit to the US Marine Corps Memorial before returning to Reagan International for the flight back to Texas. The Honor Flight arrived back in Austin by 8 pm.
All in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to see the World War II Memorial, and anyone who goes to Washington D.C. should make the time to see this grand memorial. "The entire Honor Flight operation was conducted with much care and attention by those who were with us during the whole experience," said Mr. Larsen.

In the meantime, the Honor Flights will keep on flying, and expand their veteran base to include Korean and Vietnam War veterans to afford them to opportunity to see their memorials as well. We are grateful that some of our esteemed WWII veterans, including at least one wartime Redhawk, Mr. H. Allen Larsen, are able to see this magnificent memorial to the brave men and women who served our country in that difficult time.

For more information on the Honor Flight program, see:

For information on Honor Flights in Oregon, and opportunities to help, see: