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Honor Flight: School raises funds to send vets to capital

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In 1944, the kids would have collected scraps of metal, rubber or paper as part of the war against the Axis. Seventy years later, they held bake sales and collected loose change in a war against time.

Waccamaw Middle School students, staff and parents last week turned over $2,500 collected over three weeks to Honor Flight, a program that takes World War II and Korean War veterans on a day-long trip to Washington, D.C. The last flight from Myrtle Beach will be Wednesday.

“You guys will be alive when the last World War II veteran dies,” Walter Kollet, organizer of the local Honor Flight, told students. Theirs will be the last generation to hear first-hand the stories of men like Hugh Robinson, an Army fighter pilot who spoke at Waccamaw Middle last month when the school launched its fund-drive for Honor Flight.

Pam Plexico, who teaches eighth-grade social studies, wiped tears from her eyes after the check was presented. “Those children baked cookies and cupcakes and sold them at lunch. They collected change in their communities,” she said. “It just snowballed.”

The idea was to raise enough money to send one or two veterans on a flight, which costs about $500 apiece. “They fell in love with Mr. Hugh,” Plexico said. They also watched videos of Honor Flights and saw what it means to the veterans to tour the monuments in the nation’s capital. “Children are very compassionate,” she said.

Plexico has a personal link to the project. Her father-in-law made one of the trips from Myrtle Beach, accompanied by her husband. “I’m an Army brat,” she added.

Debbie Gouldin, the school’s media specialist, was in tears when she emerged from behind the video camera she used to film the presentation. Her father is a World War II veteran who went on a bus tour of the capital similar to Honor Flight.

Each flight costs about $60,000, Kollet said. The final flight is full, but the Waccamaw Middle School donation will help cover its costs. Over the course of seven flights, starting in 2010, the organization has raised about $450,000, most from individual donations, he said. Not many give $2,500.

“The hardest part is raising the money,” Kollet said. The flights will end because he is stepping down as head of the local chapter and no one has volunteered to take his place. The chapter was started by Bert Cassels, a Heritage Plantation resident, who passed the leadership to Kollet, who is a neighbor. “We’ve got to get somebody to take it over,” Kollet said. “I’m hoping somebody’s going to step up with Korean vets.”

The flights have accommodated most of the World War II veterans, he said. Robinson, who lives in Garden City, was on the first flight in November 2010. He’s been on others to help. At 90, he goes to show other veterans what’s possible.

Robinson said he was pleased that his talk to the students made an impression. “I really didn’t have an organized talk,” he said. He was also flattered to learn that some of the girls still thought he was cute.

World War II is the first part of the social studies curriculum where students feel a personal connection with the material, Plexico said. She remembers one boy who told her he heard stories about his great-grandfather’s war service. “He wished that he had known him,” she said.

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