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'Forgotten' no more: HonorAir expands to Korean War veterans

Jeff Miller describes Blue Ridge Honor Flight's new initiatve to honor Korean War veterans. Jeff Miller describes Blue Ridge Honor Flight's new initiatve to honor Korean War veterans.

HonorAir, the Hendersonville-based organization that has flown 170,000 World War II veterans to see the National World War II Memorial, is embarking on new chapter to honor Korean War veterans.

Returning to the airport where it all started 10 years ago, HonorAir founder Jeff Miller called on supporters to make sure that those who fought “the forgotten” war are not themselves forgotten by a nation that has always invested more emotion in the two wars that bookend it.
“I don’t know if anyone’s tried to find information on the Korea War, via documentary or whatever,” Miller told media members, HonorAir organizers and others gathered for the announcement at the Asheville Regional Airport on Monday. “Lots on World War II, lots on Vietnam but very little on the Korean War. It is appropriately named ‘the forgotten war.’”
For that reason, HonorAir wants to increase efforts to educate “people on the sacrifices that this wonderful generation lived through to fight for freedom in a very cold part of the war and also protected us.”
Honor is building on the success of its World War II effort, which spread coast to coast after Miller chartered two US Airways jets full of the aging warriors in September 2016. “We flew over 2,000 from this airport. That’s remarkable within itself,” he said. Active in advocating for veterans, HonorAir also has worked on ending veterans homelessness, job training, winter coats and other services. It’s in 42 states and 132 hubs. It’s flown more than 170,000 veterans to see the World War II Memorial.
Under the revised brand of Blue Ridge Honor Flight, the organization will push off on Sept. 24 and again on Oct. 29 from AVL with planeloads of Korean War veterans.
HonorAirHilliardStatonHilliard Staton, a Korean War veteran, speaks.“Forgotten War,” said Hilliard Staton, a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War. “Well, there are those who have not forgotten. There are those who were there. They were the Koreans, and I can assure you the Koreans have not forgotten that particular war. They are the most grateful nation you can imagine.”
“It is an honor to participate with this group,” he added. “I hope that all Korean veterans still alive are able to make this trip, to visit this hallowed ground, to reflect and to remember and honor those of who did not come back.”
Staton was among Korean War veterans who returned to Seoul in 2015 for a ceremony honoring U.S. soldiers.
“The general tells us, ‘You’ve been in a lot of wars in a lot of different countries but we’re the only country that still says thanks.’ They do,” he said. “They’re very appreciative.”

Wearing a pin that said “Freedom Is Not Free,” retired Brig. Gen. Frank Blazey praised the new effort. A freshly minted graduate of West Point, Blazey deployed in 1950 as a 1st lieutenant and came home as a major.
“I look back on Korea as an accomplishment,” Blazey said. “We spent over two years there, one in combat, in all of 1950, a very difficult time. I’m sorry to say it but I still don’t like the Chinese. They gave me a pretty tough battle but we won that one, too.
HonorAirFrankBlazey2Brig. Gen. Frank Blazey (ret.) speaks to the media.“We went back again about six years later on the line that exists today. We still have 21,000 U.S. Army troops on the demarcation line that was established by Eisenhower in 1953. They’re there as a warning to the North that if you start something we don’t have to talk to the White House. We have authority to shoot back.”
Miller also emphasized that two other veteran cohorts would still be welcomed on the flights — any WWII veteran the organization has missed and terminally ill veterans.

“If there’s anyone we missed — and I don’t know how we did but it happens — we want you to know that we’ll take you with us on these first trips,” he said. “We know there are veterans from Vietnam War, even Desert Storm, that have very serious life-limiting illnesses that most likely will prevent them from seeing the memorial by themselves. We’re going to open our flights up and accept applications from any veteran with a serious life-limiting illness.” HonorAir has already offered the flights — called TLC, for Their Last Chance — to terminally ill veterans. “It’s solid opportunity to do something for somebody that faces a really difficult phase,” he said.
Bob Haggard, a Hendersonville attorney who was active in the effort by Western North Carolina Rotary clubs to sponsor WWII veterans, was on hand to say that the civic club would again sponsor flights. The Oct. 29 flight is expected to be filled primarily with Korea veterans from Buncombe County.

“Ten years ago, when we started this little idea and all of us were all circling the wagons, we knew if we got it right” the effort would grow, Miller said. “It’s amazing to me. This war is truly the forgotten war and our goal is to make sure they are not the forgotten veterans.”