Mississippian among the veterans taken to D.C. to visit memorials

Learn more about Honor Flights
* http://www.honorflight.net

BALDWYN – A July 10, 2009, letter from Honor Flight Tennessee Valley fulfilled a long-held dream for Billie Hopkins of Baldwyn.
The 84-year-old veteran of World War II was one of 125 veterans selected by the nonprofit organization for a free trip to Washington.
He and the other recipients being honored by the Huntsville, Ala.-based group would make the one-day trip on Aug. 29, 2009, to visit the memorials in the nation’s capital dedicated to their service.
“It had been so long since I applied, I thought I wasn’t selected,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins first heard of the honor flights through a television program and was interested in participating.
His daughter, retired teacher Emily J. Hopkins of Tupelo, went online to get more information and an application.
“It had been about a year, so I’d about given up,” Hopkins said.
The flight included veterans from all branches of the military and all the different conflicts, and each was assigned an escort for the trip.
“There were two others from Mississippi, but I didn’t know any of them,” he said.
Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2004 by a retired Air Force captain, a physician assistant who wanted to honor the veterans he had cared for through the years.
The National World War II Memorial, dedicated in May 2004, honors the veterans of a war whose youngest member is now about 78 years old, says the organization’s Web site. Time is running out to pay tribute to them.
Honor Flight Tennessee Valley is a local chapter organized to fly veterans from the Tennessee Valley area to Washington at no charge.
Hopkins received detailed instructions, along with providing information about whether he had special needs, before going to the Huntsville-Decatur International Airport to embark on the trip.
“My wife and daughter went with me to Huntsville, and we stayed overnight before the trip,” Hopkins said. “They saw us off at the airport, met my escort and waited for us to return that evening.”
In addition to visiting memorials, each veteran received a U.S. flag that had flown over the nation’s capitol in his honor, with a certificate commemorating the occasion with the individual’s name on it.
The day chosen for the group’s visit was the same day Sen. Ted Kennedy was being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Security was so tight that officials were not going to let them in.
“You be the one to tell these men who have sacrificed so much for this country that they can’t come in,” the Honor Flight group leader is said to have told the official blocking their entrance.
They were permitted to enter.
“It was real exciting to get a chance to meet Sen. Bob Dole, who was at the World War II memorial to greet every veteran who came,” Hopkins said. “I plan to return to Washington next year when I’ll be able to take my time to see everything.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal