Honor Flight guardianship: A life-changing experience - Tucson News Now

Honor Flight guardianship: A life-changing experience

Brandon Witten and WWII veteran Darrell Reatherford walk through the receiving line at Baltimore Washington International Airport. (Tucson News Now) Brandon Witten and WWII veteran Darrell Reatherford walk through the receiving line at Baltimore Washington International Airport. (Tucson News Now)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tucson News Now) -

Family members and strangers alike are giving our local World War II veterans the attention they never received when they were serving.

Honor Flight guardians have an important job. They provide companionship and a safety net to those who served our country when they were much more able. Now, they're on their final mission.

Carl Standifer served aboard the USS Earle after being drafted into the Navy in 1944.

He says he had a tough time because of the color of his skin.

"When I start talking about it," Standifer said, holding back tears, "I can't go any further."

His son Varnado knows what he went through and what finally getting the call that he would be on the next Honor Flight meant to him.

"It was like, oh my goodness," said the younger Standifer. "This is a once in a lifetime event!"

Guardians pay their own way for the 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.

It costs $1,000.00 per person, including the hotel room for two nights and the tour buses and meals for three days.

But whether they pay from their pockets or get donations or sponsors, the guardians say the experience is priceless.

"I cherish every moment of this," Varnado Standifer said. "I really do."

Many guardians aren't related to one another.

Brandon Witten met Army Air Corps radio operator Darrell Reatherford while volunteering at the VA.

"I've known him for about a year and a half now," Witten said.

"I'm pretty old for a trip like this," says Reatherford, "but maybe I can stay young a little while longer."

Witten and Reatherford heard about Honor Flight during their time together, and they decided to apply to the program.

"I wanted to be a part of something like that," Witten said.

Many volunteers don't know their veterans at all.

Ann Marie Neill and Al Klein met for the first time at their orientation the month before the trip – but they say it's like they've known each other forever.

No matter where they came from, all guardian and veteran pairs end up at the same place by the end of the trip.

"I hope to one day be able to fill half of his shoes," said Varnado Standifer of his father, "just one of his shoes."

"And I'm proud of him, too," said Carl Standifer.

"Thank you, Dad."

To find out how you can help, visit www.honorflightsaz.org.

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved. 

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