High school students bridged the ever-widening generational gap with World War II veterans Tuesday with an $8,000 check.
A group of Olentangy Liberty High School (OLHS) students raised the money for Honor Flight, a network that allows veterans to visit World War II memorials in Washington, D.C. at no charge.
Honor Flight Network’s funding comes solely from individual donations and service groups’ contributions. The OLHS students worked as part of a Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) awareness campaign and community service project.
Bobbi Richards, director of Honor Flight Columbus, said the money could provide “a trip of a lifetime” for about 20 veterans.
“You guys seem to have captured an understanding of how important it is to get our World War II veterans there,” Richards told the students.
“For some of the (veterans), it’s absolutely life-changing.” Richards continued. “It opens doors. They can talk about things that they might not have ever talked about before.”
Veteran Thurman “Pete” Colyer, who had already made the Honor Flight trip, agreed. Colyer said his experience as a bomber pilot 65 years ago had become a distant memory. Yet when he visited D.C., especially the Air Force monument, he was inspired to dig up his own scrapbooks to compare what he saw.
“I’ll never forget this,” Colyer said. “It was fabulous, I tell you.”
DECA advisor Mike Rees had also traveled with Honor Flight — not as a veteran, but as a chaperone. After his father-in-law invited Rees on the trip, Rees invited his students to raise funds and awareness for Honor Flight.
“I was just so impressed and touched by the experience that those gentlemen had,” Rees said. “I looked at that as an opportunity to bring it back to our classroom and marketing in DECA … so that people in the community and the state of Ohio are aware of what Honor Flight is and what it does for veterans.”
The students acknowledged that the generational gap between high schoolers and the World War II veterans is widening.
“As time passes, a lot of kids in our generation don’t realize the sacrifices that these men made for us,” said senior Stephanie Watson.
The students also expressed a need to recognize the veterans’ service.
“We thought it was important to give the World War II veterans a chance in the spotlight because their service is so important to our country’s history,” said senior Andrea Noe.
Watson and Noe, as well as senior Esteban Ceron, headed DECA’s public relations campaign for Honor Flight. The trio said they hosted a school-wide assembly on Veterans Day to raise awareness and worked with other DECA students to raise funds.
A few of those fundraiser ideas involved a little friendly competition. For example, the team organized a powder puff tournament for each grade level, sold T-shirts at the rivalry football game against Olentangy, and held a “super raffle” throughout the Olentangy school district.
Now that the check has been delivered, Rees said the DECA students would partake in a little competition themselves. The students are required to compose a 30-page paper documenting what they accomplished, which Rees said would be entered into the Ohio DECA Career Development Conference.
If the students make it into the top three, Rees said they would compete at the national level in Orlando, Florida.
Even if they do not make the trip south, Noe said the important thing was that the veterans got to make the trip east — to “make sure they had their time to be recognized.”
Rees said that, aside from it fitting in with the classroom curriculum, it was what the project was all about.
“It’s been pretty cool for them to see young people like this get excited about doing something that benefits people who could be their great-grandfathers — to make a link between someone who’s 17 and 18 years old and somebody who’s 85 or 90 years old.”
When the students become grandparents themselves, Richards said she hoped they would remember the experience.
“When you’re grandparents, there won’t be any World War II veterans around to tell you what they did during the war,” said Richards. “When you are grandparents, you can say you were part of something very special because we got to send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C.”
Richards said the first Honor Flight took off in 2005. The national group established its Columbus hub in 2007.
DECA had raised funds for Honor Flight in 2008 and 2010, Rees said. To date, he said the students have raised $28,000 for the network.