World War II ended 65 years ago. But the 16 million American veterans who served in the war did not receive a national memorial until 2004. The youngest of those veterans are now in their 80s. Many are living on fixed incomes, and, especially in the middle of a national recession, cannot afford a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the new memorial.
To honor those veterans, self storage owner Jack McClanahan decided to get involved in the Montgomery County, Texas branch of the Honor Flight Network, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to flying veterans to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial. On the honor flights, every veteran flies free and spends the day in Washington. Montgomery County’s Honor Flight branch is called Lone Star Honor Flight.
There are about 2,500 World War II veterans living in Montgomery County, according to Lone Star Honor Flight organizer Brenda Beaven. Beaven started the Montgomery County effort in 2008, after seeing a news story about the national organization. Then she spoke about the group at her local Rotary club meeting. Hearing Beaven’s story, McClanahan decided to get involved. He began volunteering with the Lone Star Honor Flight program, and offered the organization space to use for its headquarters.
Seeing the veterans light up whenever they spent time together talking and reminiscing, McClanahan decided to go one step further. He set up a Wednesday morning gathering for veterans every week at Storage 105, so veterans would have a place where they could get together, socialize, and enjoy some doughnuts and coffee.
“What gets me is just listening to them talk,” McClanahan said in the Conroe Courier. “I heard two veterans who were Prisoners of War, and they had just found out they were in the same German POW camp. They didn’t know each other there, and now here they are talking about it like it was just yesterday.”
About 80 veterans come to Storage 105’s gathering each week. McClanahan says that for him, it is his favorite day of the week.
The last Lone Star Honor Flight will depart tomorrow morning at 5 a.m., with 120 veterans aboard. They will be accompanied by 100 volunteer Guardians and, on the way to the airport, by 100 Patriot Guard motorcyclists and a dozen or more Conroe City and Montgomery County police vehicles. Another 100 veterans and 500 well-wishers will be at the airport to send them off.
Beaven says she would like to keep the flights happening, but as time passes, the veterans are getting older and frailer. Fewer of them are up to the trip. “The average age I’m taking now is 86,” Beaven told the Courier. “It would take me another year to raise enough money to go on flight six, so then the average age is 87 and 88.”
Marking the passing of the flight program, McClanahan again took action. First he donated an eagle statue to honor the veterans at Montgomery County’s Memory Park. Then he put up his own memorial at Storage 105 — an enormous American flag that can be seen from nearly two miles away. The new flag is 30 feet tall and 60 feet wide. It flies at the top of a flagpole that is 12 stories tall. At night, a spotlight shines on the flag.
McClanahan spent more than $25,000 on the flagpole, and $1,600 on the flag, which will have to be replaced twice a year.
“That flag was put up for veterans,” McClanahan told the Courier, “and every time someone looks at it, they should thank their lucky stars to be free in America….Thank you to the veterans for making that happen, and keeping it happening. How do you put a price on something like that?”
“You don’t imagine what he has done for us,” 83-year-old John Laws, a veteran of the Navy from 1943-54, commented in the same Courier article. “I think Jack McClanahan should be voted person of the year in Texas.”
“Lone Star Honor Flight: Mission Accomplished!” Lone Star Honor Flight.
Meyer, Brad. “Area World War II vets honored with flag.” The Conroe Courier, May 5, 2010.
Morgan, Kim. “Flag flies high to honor area veterans.” The Conroe Courier. May 6, 2010.