Throughout the month of August, the Lincoln County Veterans Coffee Talk is raising money for Central Missouri Honor Flight.
Through Coffee Talk, at least 241 Lincoln County veterans have participated in an Honor Flight. The organization flies ex-service men and women to Washington DC to visit the capitol’s memorials to America’s armed forces.
Local Veteran Pat McLaughlin said he’d originally had reservations about going on his Honor Flight. He served in the Vietnam Era, a time where troops received far different treatment than they do today.
“In ’68, when I enlisted, there were a lot of challenges for young people as well as old people – a lot of war protests going on, and people in the military were treated with a great deal of disrespect,” McLaughlin said.
“There were a lot us who were spit on, including myself. I was called a baby-killer once,” McLaughlin, who served as an aviation engineer for the Navy, added. “The tragedy was we had to take that abuse without saying anything negative back.”
This was the seed of his hesitation for taking the Honor Flight trip, because of Vietnam and the way soldiers had been treated.
“But finally I was talked into signing up and I went, and it was quite a crazy experience,” McLaughlin said. “From the moment we met in Columbia to the time we returned back, we were treated with great honor everywhere we went. And that was a healing process, for not just myself, but other fellows that have experienced the same thing.”
Coffee Talk raises money for Honor Flight twice per year, usually managing to provide $10,000 with its fall collection drive, and this year made another $10,000 with its springtime dinner/dance.
“I’d say in the last five years we’ve probably raised close to $150,000,” said Roger Kiesey, of Coffee Talk.
The relationship between Coffee Talk and Central Missouri Honor Flight is a tight one, Kiesey said.
Years ago, when Coffee Talk was looking to partner up with an Honor Flight chapter, they made little headway when reaching out to the St. Louis-based chapter. After gaining no ground there, Kiesey said he contacted Central Missouri (based out of Columbia) and the president of the chapter there came right out to the next Coffee Talk to speak to the local veterans.
“We had eight WWII veterans on the next flight,” Kiesey said. “And it’s been like that ever since – 241 in eight years.”
There used to be around 40 WWII vets in the area – now that number has dropped to 10, Kiesey said.
Honor Flight does a good job of getting veterans out on a flight, no matter what barriers are in the way.
Local veteran GaryBoren said the guardians on the flight “take care of everybody so well,” to the point where all veterans have to do is make friends and enjoy the trip.
“I’ve seen people with Parkinson’s that couldn’t walk, people on oxygen, they take them,” Kiesey said. “They have doctors on the flight, they have nurses, they have paramedics, they’ve got all their bases covered through Central Missouri.”
Boren went on his flight two years ago in April. For him, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was going through the airports, where everybody recognizes the veterans as they head towards their flights and thanks them for their contributions to the country.
Seeing the memorials to fallen soldiers was also impactful, he said.
“I’d been to Washington DC a couple times, but I’d never seen many of the memorials – I’d seen other things, I’d seen museums – but to go there is outstanding,” Boren said.
Coming back, Boren said he was surprised by letters from family members and old friends. People as far back as high school had been contacted, and had written him.
Speaking for the local veterans that have been on an Honor Flight, McLaughlin said witnessing the patriotism that exists in the country today versus times in the past, “it just makes you feel good to be an American.”
He added that young people trying to find themselves can find no better place than the military to learn who they really are.
“I’ve traveled to a great many countries, and if people could only witness what other people don’t have, and what we have in this country, there would be a greater embrace for what we have,” McLaughlin said. “It’s undoubtedly the greatest country in the world.”
Donations for Honor Flight can be made out to CMHF (Central Missouri Honor Flight), and dropped off at the Lincoln County Council on Aging (LCCOA) or mailed to the Veteran’s Coffee Talk, Care of LCCOA at 1380 Boone Street, Troy, MO, 63379.