By Janet Shamlian, NBC News correspondent
I spend a lot of time on planes, but the flight I took from Dayton to D.C. last Saturday will be hard to top. The seats were filled with American heroes, seventy World War II veterans traveling to their memorial aboard an Honor Flight. The Greatest Generation is moving a little slower these days, and more than a few initially feared the trip was beyond their reach.
82-year-old Robert Huesing of Hamilton, Ohio was my seatmate. I am now fully briefed in the antics of a navy cook aboard a Landing Ship Tank in 1944. It was great stuff, and I couldn't help wonder about the stories in the seats all around me.
Most of the veterans aboard didn't know Earl Morse, which suited him just fine. Earl is a retired Air Force Captain whose passion for flying is surpassed only by his love of country. During a stint at the VA, he was struck by veterans who told him they physically or financially couldn't swing a trip to see their newly completed memorial. Earl refused to accept that, and Honor Flight was born.
Oh, to be on that first flight; three veterans and Earl at the controls of a can opener-sized Cessna. It didn't stay small for long. Today, Honor Flight offers our heroes free trips out of 30 states. Guardians help them navigate airport security (they volunteer for that!) and push wheelchairs. Private donations fund it all at a cost of about $250 per person.
Earl's photo must be in a dictionary somewhere under the word 'restless.' Just getting him to sit down with us for tonight's Making A Difference report took the better part of a day, as my patient camera crew will attest. As Earl sees it, he's racing the clock. While 6,000 veterans have taken an Honor Flight, he's focused on those who haven't. Thousands of World War II vets are passing away each month, and hundreds are still waiting for a trip. Earl won't rest until he honors each and every hero. With that kind of job ahead of him, there's little time to talk.
Find out more about the Honor Flight Network.
photo - NBC's Janet Shamlian with World War II veteran Robert Huesing aboard an honor flight to Washington, DC