Honor Flight to honor local native, others for giving program wings

Honor Flight Northeast Indiana Founder Laura Carrico (standing at left) assists World War II United States Navy veteran June Harshman (seated at left) as retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (standing at right) helps WWII Army veteran Polly Lipscomb during a past Honor Flight to Washington, DC. Carrico will be recognized during the upcoming 20th flight planned for Wednesday, May 25.
Honor Flight Northeast Indiana Founder Laura Carrico (standing at left) assists World War II United States Navy veteran June Harshman (seated at left) as retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (standing at right) helps WWII Army veteran Polly Lipscomb during a past Honor Flight to Washington, DC. Carrico will be recognized during the upcoming 20th flight planned for Wednesday, May 25.

Right off the bat, Laura Carrico will tell you Honor Flight Northeast Indiana is not about her, but about the veterans who are served by the organization.

The Huntington native, who now lives in Fort Wayne, is not one to toot her own horn about founding the group in Indiana that has touched the lives of so many World War II servicemen and women.

“This whole thing is in honor of the veterans,” she says. “It’s not any of the volunteers.”

However, with the 20th Honor Flight prepared to take off to Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 25, HFNEI is planning to honor its founder and fellow members of the original board of directors who — literally — got the program off the ground.

HFNEI’s initial mission was to take WWII veterans to Washington, DC, to view the memorial built in recognition and appreciation of their efforts and sacrifices during the war.

Since Carrico founded the Indiana organization in 2008, around 1,300 veterans have been on the honor flights to the nation’s capital, at no cost to them.

“She saw a need several years ago and no one was doing this,” says her nephew, Joey Spiegel, of Huntington. “She had no experience in starting anything like this, but worked really hard until the right people joined and she was able to hand it off to people who made it into the program it is today.”

Carrico says it’s nice to get the pat on the back, but with a smile in her voice, she says sometimes the current board of directors goes overboard to recognize her accomplishment.

“I don’t want it to detract from the whole purpose of this thing,” she adds.

The president of the HFNEI board, Bob Myer, says, “She’s the one who put her heart into it to start it from ground zero.

“It was her ambition and interest and passion to start it. Without her starting this thing, we wouldn’t be at over 1,300 veterans that we’ve flown so far.”

As Carrico grew up in Huntington, graduating from Huntington Catholic High School, she had no idea she would start something that would grow to the size that the Honor Flight has become. She just knew she wanted veterans to get the recognition, honor and respect they deserved for fighting for our country.

She got the idea to start up a group like the Honor Flight Network in Springfield, OH, the organization’s main hub. One Veterans Day, Carrico found herself watching a documentary about the Ohio organization, and the spark was ignited.

“My dad was a World War II veteran, and I thought he would love to do something like this,” she explains. “But the waiting list was like a couple of years long at that point.

Carrico called Earl Morse, who started Honor Flight in Ohio, and asked if there was a group in Indiana she could volunteer with. Morse told her no.

“You know how something gets under your skin and you just have to try?” she asks. “It was just one of those things. I thought, ‘What do you do to start one?’ and he sent me some information. He said, ‘If you get this far, then call us and we’ll help you out.’”

Carrico picked up some new skills: how to organize, how to incorporate, how to get the word out about Honor Flight Northeast Indiana. With Morse and his group lending their advice, she obtained 501c3 status and in 2009 the first flight from Indiana took off to Washington with 27 veterans on board.

“Each of the first three flights was a small jet and was somewhere between 25 and 28 veterans,” she remembers. “Now they’re taking the big airbus and taking 83 veterans now.”

From starting at one or two flights to now four flights per year, Carrico is excited that the organization has grown since she
stepped down and handed the reins to new leadership. She is also proud that HFNEI is funded by private donations.

“The community has just gotten on board and fund-raising has allowed them to do that,” she says. “We had one bus when we got there; they have four coaches running now, once they get to DC. So it has really exploded. And it’s all from community support.”

After the 20th flight, Carrico says nearly all the WWII veterans who want to go to Washington, DC or are able to go have already made the flight. Now, the Honor Flight is beginning to serve Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. Already, many Vietnam vets have volunteered their services as “guardians” or in other capacities in service to their fellow servicemen.

Drinking in the magnitude of where it is today, Carrico says she gets mixed feelings about her contribution to the Honor Flight organization.

“Of course, I’m just thrilled to see the success it is, and I’m glad I had a part in it. But it really was bigger than me and I’m so grateful for the people who took over when I had to leave, and had more guts than I did,” she says. “They just took it to a level that I couldn’t conceive of.”

Her pleasure is taken in seeing the thanks in the eyes of those veterans who get to make the trip, to see the monument that was finally erected in the later years of their life.

Carrico says she doesn’t know what she’ll be doing on the 20th flight on Wednesday, but she’s excited to be included on the guest list. She says some of the original board members have yet to make a flight.

“It’s a moving experience,” she adds, understatedly.

Despite her protestations at being thrust in the limelight, Carrico’s contribution to the honor flights won’t soon be forgotten.

“She’s a wonderful, very compassionate person. Most people that know her very well say that she stepped clear out of her comfort zone to get this thing rolling,” says Myer. “She’s a spectacular person that impacted a lot of lives.”