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Gov. Pat McCrory came to Hendersonville Monday and presented the state's top civilian award to Honor Air founder Jeff Miller before riding in the King Apple Parade.
Miller, the governor recalled, showed up at his mayor's office in Charlotte with a big plan about flying World War II veterans to see the National World War II Memorial. McCrory said he came to find out the Hendersonville dry cleaner was "a guy who make things happen."
McCrory's appearance drew a good-sized crowd of supporters and elected officials to the Boyd Chevrolet dealership at Five Points, the staging area for the start of the parade.
Miller founded Honor Air in 2006 to fly World War II veterans for free to Washington to see the National World War II Memorial. Since then the organization has flown thousands of veterans to the capital. A flight scheduled for later this month out of Greenville, S.C., would be the 300th U.S. Airways charter jet flying Honor Air honorees. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented by the governor to people have contributed in a substantial way to the state and its people.
"Not only have he and his wife have been so active in the community, with business, with hospitals, with civics," McCrory said, "but the thing that impressed me the most about Jeff was his care and his commitment to the greatest generation and that's the World War II veterans. And I might add I wouldn't be surprised in the future — I know Jeff feels the same way about the Korean veterans and the Vietnam veterans and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, all veterans who sacrificed their life for our freedom.
"One thing Jeff understands is that as the greatest generation is aging out, he wanted them to see the incredible World War II monument in Washington, D.C., and he started it right here in the west, right here in Hendersonville.
"When I was mayor of Charlotte, he came to my office, in 2008, and he said 'I'm Jeff Miller and I want to help the veterans of the Charlotte area,' and I said, 'What do you want to do?' and he said "I want to load them up on a plane, and let them see this incredible World War II monument.'
"And I kind of went, 'Who is this guy?' and I found out he's a guy who makes things happen. He got Sen. (Bob) Dole involved, he got your community involved, he got the Charlotte community involved, he got all of North Carolina involved."
Miller thanked Honor Air supporters for helping.
"I'll accept this for a lot of people that took a little idea and turned it into reality, Dave (Adams), a lot of others," he said, "to a great community that embraced it, made it real, to Rotarians that took it and made it bigger, to the governor that didn't throw me out of his office, and believe me he had plenty of opportunity."
"It's a wonderful generation we chose to honor," he said. "We honor all veterans when we honor them and remember that everything good in our lives is because of the sacrifice of someone else."