PUC’s Herb Ford Honored for His Military Service with Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
By Laura Gang on November 29, 2023
Herb Ford was enjoying lunch at Panera Bread when a stranger noticed his veteran’s hat and reached for his arm.
“You’ve got to go on the next Honor Flight!” the man urged.
Ford admitted he hadn’t heard of the honor flights before, but once the man explained, he responded, “I’ll think about it.”
In September, Ford and 67 other veterans flew on the 26th Central Valley Honor Flight from Fresno, California, to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials honoring their military service.
The Central Valley Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that holds fundraisers to pay for veterans to be honored on a memorable trip–including round-trip airfare, a two-night stay at a first-class hotel, all meals, and charter bus transportation to every site on the trip.
Ford, 96, is a veteran of the U.S. Merchant Marine, the U.S. Army Air Corps, and the U.S. Air Force. He was one of just three World War II veterans on the trip. The others, including two women, served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and other conflicts.
Although he didn’t know any other veterans on the trip, Ford said he forged new friendships—especially as people learned of his connections to Iwo Jima. Ford attended Valley Grande Academy with Harlon Block, the marine at the base of the flag in the iconic Iwo Jima photograph. Additionally, he also worked during a General Conference session with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Joe Rosenthal, who took the famous photograph.
In Washington, the honored veterans visited the WWII Memorial, the Navy Memorial, the US Marine Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the National Museum of the United States Army, the Military Women’s Memorial, and the Korean War and Vietnam Memorials. The trip also included a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
During the Flight's standout moment, the group was swiftly escorted from their hotel through bustling morning traffic by a police escort with flashing lights to the U.S. Capitol. There, they were granted access to the House of Representatives floor. Seated in the Representatives' chairs, the veterans received recognition through a heartfelt "thank you" speech delivered by the then Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. The event concluded with an official photo of the group in the Capitol Rotunda.
Though Ford had previously visited some of the memorials, this time was different. He said this experience prompted him to think more deeply about what the memorials “said” compared to his previous encounters.
“The totality of it all impressed me with the horrific waste of life that war is,” he said.
Ford said the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ceremony also profoundly affected him. Still, he was just as moved by what happened immediately afterward as the group returned to their buses. “Scores if not hundreds of school children lined both sides of the sidewalk and reached out to shake hands, and most of them mouthed kind words,” Ford said. “I didn’t deserve it, but it sure felt good.”
Ford’s daughter, Jana Aagaard, accompanied him on the Honor Flight. In Washington, D.C., they were joined by his other daughter, Alyssa Morel, and her family. The Central Valley Honor Flight, established in 2013, participates in the national Honor Flight program. This program boasts over 125 hubs and offers veterans a once-in-a-lifetime trip. The Central Valley Honor Flight relies primarily on contributions from businesses, organizations, and individuals.
“We want you to hear two words over the next three days: ‘Thank you,’” Central Valley Honor Flight founder and local radio broadcaster Paul Loeffler said during the September departure ceremony, as reported by The Fresno Bee. “I hope you hear it a lot; I hope it comes from the heart because we want to thank you for your service to our country.”
Before the flight departed, upon learning that he was an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, Loeffler asked Ford to give the Flight invocation. When the group returned, Loeffler, the voice of the Fresno State University Bulldogs football team, interviewed Ford for his radio program Hometown Heroes, which profiles veterans from across the U.S.
Loeffler found Ford’s life story so compelling that he turned the interview into a rare two-part show episode.For more information or to donate to the honor flight, visit cvhonorflight.org. The Central Valley Honor Flight plans to embark on at least two trips to the nation’s capital in 2024.
To hear the interview with Herb Ford on the broadcast Hometown Heroes, visit:
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