With the precision of a military operation, Honor Flight Tallahassee takes 75 local veterans to Washington, D.C. each year – free of charge.
They stop at the major war memorials in the nation’s capital, as well as Arlington Cemetery. It’s a time of intense emotions… memories… and gratitude.
These are the men and women who’ve protected the American way of life and sacrificed so much, says my guest Mac Kemp, and he considers it an honor to be part of this organization.
Mac, chairman of the group and deputy chief with Leon County EMS was instrumental in forming the local chapter and ensuring that vets from World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War are able to get the recognition they deserve.
Mac and I talk about highlights from past trips and how everyday people can get involved, as well as…
The rewards of being an Honor Flight Guardian
What vets always say during the trip
How the group cuts through D.C. traffic ”like butter”
A welcome back ceremony like you’ve never seen
And much more
John Curry: Hi folks. John Curry here with another episode of John Curry's Secure Retirement Podcast. I have the pleasure today of sitting across the table from my friend Mac Kemp. Mac is the local chairman for Honor Flight Tallahassee. He'll tell you more about his other duties here in a moment but, Mac welcome.
Mac Kemp: Thank you very much, thanks for having me.
John Curry: My pleasure, glad to have you here. Let's start off by talking about who you are and then we'll talk about the Honor Flight. Give our listeners a little bit of a background about who you are, what you do in your day to day job, and then how in the world you got involved with Honor Flight and your actual, official role of Honor Flight.
Mac Kemp: Sure. I'm actually deputy chief of Leon County EMS. Been doing EMS for a very long time. The Honor Flight came along as something that I read an article about many years ago and it seemed like that it was a perfect fit with our agency because the flight that we go on most of the veterans are elderly and many of them have physical issues of different types and we need paramedics and physicians to go on the flight. So, I knew that Leon County EMS had the paramedics, we had the equipment, we had the ability to do this. So, I wrote up a proposal and showed it to my boss who was chief Tom Quillan at the time and he was a veteran. He thought it was a great idea so, we took it up to county administration who said let's take this to the board of county commissioners and we did a presentation to them and they fully supported it. So, it was off we went from there.
John Curry: That's great. You've had what six flights now?
Mac Kemp: We've had six flights coming up next year, in the spring of 2019 will be our seventh flight.
John Curry: Well I had the pleasure being on three of those.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: So, I've enjoyed them.
Mac Kemp: And we appreciate your support in many, many different ways.
John Curry: Well you're welcome to that, it's a worthy cause. Speaking of worthy cause, let's explain who is Honor Flight and the mission of Honor Flight.
Mac Kemp: Yeah. Honor Flight is there is a national organization called Honor Flight Network out of Washington ... that helps us in Washington DC and they are a group that helps coordinate hubs across the nation. There's 131 hubs across the United States in 45 separate states that fly veterans since Honor Flight's inception, they've flown over 200 thousand veterans to Washington to see their memorials and currently as of today, there's about 30000 veterans that are on waiting lists to go. We have a waiting list here between 150 and 200 at the current moment right here in Tallahassee.
John Curry: Really?
Mac Kemp: Yep, there is always people that are waiting to go.
John Curry: Can you do a breakdown roughly, I know you usually throw out numbers, how many World War II, Korean, Vietnam ... can you have a rough idea of how many of which that we've taken? No, on that waiting list. [crosstalk 00:03:19].
Mac Kemp: On the waiting list right now it's predominantly Vietnam veterans. We have ... I think we only have five World War II veterans that are signed up right now for this flight. Our first two flights were all World War II veterans, 100%. They're getting at the age where it's difficult for them to go there. They're all in their late 90s at this point. Korean war veterans we probably got somewhere between 40 and 50. Then the rest of those veterans on our list are Vietnam veterans that are waiting. We get applications literally every day.
John Curry: Good.
Mac Kemp: Every day.
John Curry: That's good. I can remember a time when we had hard enough time just letting people know what Honor Flight Tallahassee was.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: And getting veterans to actually apply.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: So, it's great that you got that waiting list. So, let's talk a little bit about what the purpose is. You alluded to it but, I want to go deeper. Because unless someone's been on one of these flights, you don't have a clue what it's like.
Mac Kemp: No, you don't understand. It's really 100% to honor these veterans that have been to war for us, that have preserved our freedoms, our American way of life. We talk about this in our board meetings often that we strongly feel, every one of our board members feels that everything we have, everything we're allowed to do in United States, every freedom that we enjoy, is because of the veterans that have served and sacrificed so much over the years to preserve those freedoms. I'm a little biased but, I think the United States is the most amazing country on Earth and I am so blessed to live here. The only reason that we enjoy all the things that we do is because these veterans have laid it on the line and many of them have died in past years for our freedoms.
So, we feel like it's little enough to take a one day trip to thank these veterans for their sacrifice and their service. One day trip to take them to these monuments and memorials that they've never seen before. You think about the memorials in Washington DC, they're there for everybody to see but, really those memorials were built for those veterans.
John Curry: Ton of them.
Mac Kemp: That's right.
John Curry: I remember on the very first flight, the gentleman that I actually had the honor of being his guardian, very dear friend, has been for many, many years. He opened up and talked with me about things that he'd never discussed with his family. Never. Well, both of them did because I was the pleasure of being a guardian twice and then part of your team working one time. Thank you for all the hard work you made me do by the way.
Mac Kemp: Absolutely. I appreciate it.
John Curry: It was amazing just listening to the stories and I know in Harry's case, the first gentleman Harry Grant, also Charles Lamb but, Harry was talking about things, "You know John, I've never discussed this with people in my own family."
Mac Kemp: That's true, most of these veterans have never talked about their experience but, when you put them in an airplane with 79 other veterans that understand what they've been through, they start talking about things that no one's ever heard. I've heard stories, the veterans have told me stories that they've never told their family. There's certain things that they feel like were almost unspeakable that they had to participate in. It was hard, it was difficult. It was ... and I have a lot of them tell me, "I like to talk about the happy things, I don't like to talk about the bad things". But, the bad things are important and this trip helps them to come to terms to some degree.
I had one letter from a gentleman up in Minnesota who was a son of one of the veterans and his father served in Burma during World War II and he said his father always felt like that the troupes that were in Burma never had been recognized for everything that they had done and he said that after 75 years the trip on Honor Flight, and this was his words, finally knocked that chip off his shoulder. So, I take that as a great success that Honor Flight was there to honor him for what he did.
John Curry: Absolutely. I served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era and I'll tell you, you've got a lot of Vietnam veterans who really feel that. Spit on when you came back, cussed at and called baby killer and stuff like this. So, I can relate to some of that.
Mac Kemp: Absolutely. I have a letter that was from this past Honor Flight from Captain Murray who was a Vietnam aviator that went on our flight. He wrote this letter right after the flight on Memorial Day as a matter of fact and he wrote in the letter that when we got to the airport, a woman, a total stranger, walked up to him and said, "Were you a Vietnam veteran?" He said, "Yes I was." He said she extended her hand said, "Welcome home".
John Curry: Wow.
Mac Kemp: He said that in his entire Vietnam experience, no one except family had ever welcomed him home. That was all of his negative feelings from Vietnam. He says this one woman, he says we'll never know who she was and she'll never know what effect she had on my life but, she changed how he felt about his war experience because he was finally welcomed home after all of these years.
John Curry: All it takes is one person showing appreciation.
Mac Kemp: It does.
John Curry: And we're going to come back full circle to that in a minute, talk about what you see when you get there because it's amazing. I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves here because I can sit here and talk all day long about this because of the experiences but for our listeners, let's take them through what happens from the time we get out of that hanger at 5:00 in the morning. Just walk through what goes on.
Mac Kemp: Sure. We get to the hanger usually around 4:30 in the morning because we have to go through TSA checks. We have to feed everybody breakfast, we have to get everybody in their teams because we have a red, white, and blue team because we have three buses. A red, white, and blue bus. So, we get everybody together, lined up with their guardian, get their wheel chairs, get their oxygen set up. Whatever it is that they need, we get all those things set up. We have to go through the dreaded TSA checklist.
John Curry: Let me stop here for a second. Let's go back up because I don't think people can have an appreciation of what you just said about oxygen, wheelchairs, etc. That is a major project.
Mac Kemp: It is.
John Curry: Getting that stuff on that plane. I know the flights I was on, your crew went out there usually the day before and had all that on the plane.
Mac Kemp: The week before.
John Curry: The week before?
Mac Kemp: It takes a week, we take the hanger over for a week and we actually start getting all that in because the day before, we have ... TSA does a pre-check for us on the equipment. So, they clear all the ... we take 60 wheelchairs, we take cardiac monitors, we take medications of all different descriptions and types. We basically have one of most everything that's in an ambulance that's going in that plane. We have 80 veterans that are the youngest is going to be around 70 and the oldest is going to be around 100. So, we have a lot of medical conditions to be concerned about and we need to make sure that we have every possible option covered as far as medically.
I can very proudly say, in the six years of flights, we've taken 480 veterans and we've brought back 480 veterans. That's one of the biggest goals is to bring them back to their families, healthy and whole.
John Curry: Well I know the flight that I was on with you where I was working, I thought we were going to lose a couple of them because they were wandering off, and I had to go get them.
Mac Kemp: Yes. We always do. We always have some wanderers and we have some people that even though we tell them to stay off the stairs, they ... use the ramps, they get a little stubborn.
John Curry: We'll come back to that in a minute when we tell them some of the stops.
Mac Kemp: Okay.
John Curry: Let's tease them, let's don't tell them that yet.
Mac Kemp: Okay.
John Curry: Like you said, we get to the hanger, they’ve got to go through TSA.
Mac Kemp: Right, so we get our breakfast, we do TSA, we get all that stuff, we get everybody loaded up, go through the TSA inspection to make sure everybody gets checked off to get onto the flight and we get them on and it's wheels up at 7:00 AM. We've never been late so far. So, 7:00 AM we get ... it's about a two hour flight to Washington. We get to BWI at ... which is ... everybody always asks why do we go to BWI why don't you go to some of the Washington airports and I got because the gates are locked out.
John Curry: Lets' tell them about BWI. Baltimore Washington International.
Mac Kemp: Baltimore Washington International. So, we get there and we do some things that are surprises that we plan ahead for the veterans to honor them right off the bat when we get there as far as getting to the airport. The main issue is getting off the airplane at this point. Getting them into their wheelchairs, and then getting them to the three buses that are awaiting with the United States park police escort. So, we have everybody ... we have to make sure that everybody's in their team, red, white, and blue and that we've accounted for everybody on the bus.
John Curry: Okay. I've experienced this but, I want to ask you a question.
Mac Kemp: Absolutely.
John Curry: Share with our audience what happens when the people, the passengers, I got chill bumps. When they see us and they realize what is happening, share with the group what takes place. [crosstalk 00:13:43].
Mac Kemp: The thing is, we plan a lot of things to honor the veterans. But, the best things that happen are the things that are spontaneous that we don't plan. It starts in the airport and as soon as we get off the plane, the people that are just in the airport there to catch a flight realize that these are veterans that have served the United States of America and they spontaneously come up and start shaking hands, hugging necks, clapping and just telling ... just making these veterans feel appreciated and it's great to see the faces of the veterans because they don't get it yet. They don't understand that all of this is for them and that it's spontaneous. But, this happens at every single stop.
We've had groups of military that were going off to battle in Afghanistan or somewhere else that realized that these older veterans were coming by and instantly just came over and started shaking their hands and acknowledging. We've had school kids, we've had boy scout troupes, we've people in general.
John Curry: I witnessed some of the younger troupes that were shipping out just standing at attention and coming full salute to the [crosstalk 00:14:58].
Mac Kemp: Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative). They did that ... [crosstalk 00:15:01].
John Curry: I love seeing it.
Mac Kemp: And these older veterans, that's just an amazing appreciation for them is to feel that connection with current active military so, it's just a ... and we didn't plan that. It was just ... it just happened. There's other things, we've had people, I'll tell you that we had people show up that we didn't expect. We had the Baltimore Ravens' cheerleaders.
John Curry: That was funny.
Mac Kemp: Show up at one and the veterans, particularly the male veterans now, they just absolutely loved that. There's no way around it.
John Curry: Especially when some of the cheerleaders was sitting in their lap in the wheel chair.
Mac Kemp: Absolutely.
John Curry: Encouraging.
Mac Kemp: Some funny moments. But, people like that, different groups, different bands show up. We had ... at the World War II memorial we've had the ... the Royal Scots Dragoon Band from England showed because they knew that we were going to be there and they were in town doing a concert and they came and did a once hour concert at the World War II memorial for us. We didn't plan that. They just heard about it and they came. Things like that have happened almost every flight. We've had the governor meet us at different places, we've had different senators and representatives meet us.
John Curry: The governor met us at Arlington.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: Because I was on that flight when he came.
Mac Kemp: The governor's met us multiple times either at the hanger or out in Washington if he's there.
John Curry: The first flight I remember he greeted us when we came back.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: I have a picture with Harry Grant and myself and my grandson.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: As a matter of fact it's over there somewhere I think.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: Let's talk a little bit about the stops. Well let's have some fun with the park service first. So we get on this bus, buses, and we are led folks, to Washington DC and I forgot, is that about an hour drive?
Mac Kemp: It's about an hour.
John Curry: And we're led by a motorcycle cop and then one in a car. Tell them a little bit about that because there's been some funny things happen on that.
Mac Kemp: The thing is, when we're driving through Washington DC with three buses and a police escort front and back, there are literally thousands and thousands of people that are standing on the side of the road watching saying, "Who the heck are these people?". My answer to them is this is American royalty. These are the veterans that have protected your country. So, they should be honored this way. This turns out that the police escort is one of the highlights of the trip.
John Curry: Yes it is.
Mac Kemp: To watch the police cut through all of this traffic and Washington has lots of traffic, people in Tallahassee think we have traffic. No, not really, not compared to Washington DC. We could not get to the monuments without the park police escort.
John Curry: And we drive right up to the monuments.
Mac Kemp: We do, drive up right to the edge of it which is great because these veterans don't need to go that far. They don't need to have to walk a long way. So, it's great but to have seen them cutting through traffic like butter, just cutting through the middle of it. Cars going everywhere. One of our ... we've had one of the same officers, Officer Larry Holmes, we've had him for every single flight and he will drive his motorcycle up to the back of the car and literally bang on the trunk to wake them up, to make them pull over. There's nothing that makes the veterans just cheer and laugh more than seeing that. But, it's really part of that sense of we are honoring them in many different ways and this is one of the ways because, they are VIPs. Usually those escorts are for the president, or some other movie star or somebody but, these are the people that I think that are just as important.
John Curry: Yep, it's a lot of fun to watch that. All right so let's talk about ... so, we get to downtown Washington DC and talk a little bit about the stops that are made, each of the memorials, so people can get an appreciation of what happens.
Mac Kemp: Well before we stop, the first thing we do is do a short driving tour around Washington because, a lot of these veterans have never been there, they've never seen the capitol, they've never seen the White House, they've never seen the common ... the Jefferson Memorial so, we drive around a little bit so they can see some of those memorials because, we can't go to all those. There's not enough time. So, we're going ... we're there for the war memorials, that's what we're there for. So, the first stop is World War II. World War II is a huge memorial, it's very well done. It has a column for every single state and every territory. They're all out there. It's just an amazing memorial, huge water show that goes on there. In the back of it there's the wall of remembrance which is a star for every 400 ... I think it's every 400 men and women that died in World War II. There were thousands that died in that war.
So, it's an amazing thing, it's a very solemn thing and so we stopped there and spend a couple of hours at the World War II memorial. While we're there we do a group picture with all 168 people on the flight. We get them in one giant shot which is amazing and then we do a short brief ceremony to remember those that were not able to go on the flight or those that have passed on. There's a lot of those memories for these veterans. They remember all their friends from long, long ago that are no longer here with them. There's a lot of memories between there and when we get to Arlington National Cemetery. There's a lot of that memory going on.
So, we go to World War II, we get lunch on the bus as we end. The other thing I'll tell you is ... I have to mention this, Senator Bob Dole is a former Senator, he was a wounded World War II veteran. Amazing guy, he has come to almost every single flight that we've been on and he goes out on Saturday, he greets all the honor flight groups. We're usually not the only one there. Last flight there were nine other Honor Flight groups in Washington the same day that we were. It was pouring rain, and Senator Dole was in his wheelchair with someone holding an umbrella out there. He wasn't going to let some rain stop him from showing up. He's an amazing guy. He shakes hands or hugs necks with every single veteran that comes up.
John Curry: He appreciates them and he poses for photos.
Mac Kemp: And he does.
John Curry: And it's said to see his state because, again being on three of these things from year to year, you see how his health has been failing him and he's a national treasure himself.
Mac Kemp: He is. Actually, I'll tell you though, he looked better this past flight than he's looked the past three or flights.
John Curry: Really?
Mac Kemp: He looked better.
John Curry: Awesome. That is great.
Mac Kemp: I think it was weird, even in the rain, even in the rain.
John Curry: Well I was in Washington this last flight but I was there for a conference.
Mac Kemp: Right.
John Curry: So, while you guys are doing that, I was getting a tour of the House of Representatives.
Mac Kemp: Okay.
John Curry: That's why I didn't ... I was going to go crash the party but, they said no, you can't because we got this going on so I couldn't do it.
Mac Kemp: I understand.
John Curry: Couldn't do it.
Mac Kemp: Well, from there we go to a common place in between Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. They're all three together in an area there and we spend about two hours and allow the veterans to view all of those memorials. Like I said, we are taking World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans so they all wanna see those memorials and a lot of World War II veterans have sons or daughters that were in Vietnam. So, they want to go there for those. We see those memorials there. They're all impressive in their own way. You just ... you can never forget your first visit to the Vietnam wall. It's just ... it's moving. The things that I've seen on every single trip, the things that people leave at the wall in memory.
This is literally true, I think it's three flights ago, we were walking down and there was a lot of people and I realized everybody's having to walk around something. It was a Harley Davidson Motorcycle. I was like ... I finally saw one of the park police ... not park police but park rangers and I said, "Why is there a motorcycle parked in the middle of this? Why would somebody park there?" They said, "Someone left it as a memory of ... for someone that died".
John Curry: Wow.
Mac Kemp: In Vietnam and [inaudible 00:24:13] they actually collect all of the things and they keep them in a warehouse in DC and so that motorcycle is going to be kept in permanent collection. It was essentially a donation. That's an amazing thing to me. It's very emotional, it's very ... it means that much that somebody would give away their prized motorcycle because it was ... it moved them so much. So, we see something different every time. Korean War Memorial, one of the great things two, three trips ago, we a had a guy from close to here, Mr. Dillon realized his picture was on the wall.
John Curry: I remember that.
Mac Kemp: And he didn't know that his picture had been etched in the wall but it was him and we got his picture now and then and that was something, that's an amazing thing.
John Curry: I want to comment on that, of all the memorials to me and I have it on my wall there, the picture on the wall over there with Harry Grant, to me the most moving memorial is the Korean Memorial. And for the folks who have not seen it, I would encourage you to Google it, looked it up and look at a picture. It is basically life-sized bronze statues of a group of soldiers walking on a patrol and every time I'm there I look at that and ... I went down there again while I was in DC back in May. It is very moving, and I just stand there, I stood there for probably 20 minutes just looking and just like wow, how lifelike.
Mac Kemp: Mm-hmm (affirmative) it is. It's truly amazing.
John Curry: Yeah it is.
Mac Kemp: Each one of them in their own way is moving, in its own way.
John Curry: I'm curious because I served in the Air Force, did you guys go by the Air Force Memorial this time?
Mac Kemp: We did.
John Curry: Fantastic because [crosstalk 00:26:04].
Mac Kemp: We built that in because, it's close and it's great to see ... there's three squares, and it was great to see everybody laying down in the middle of the three squares to take a picture straight up.
John Curry: It's cool to me.
Mac Kemp: I thought somebody had fallen out, of course as a paramedic I was like, "Oh my gosh, there's somebody I'm going to have to go deal with a medical issue" then I realized they were just laying down taking pictures. It was pretty funny.
John Curry: We did that on the ... first time that we stopped was the third flight I was on.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: That was the first time because I just it'd just been [crosstalk 00:26:35].
Mac Kemp: We had time.
John Curry: It was the time.
Mac Kemp: We just have enough time but, now we built it in.
John Curry: Good, good for you. That's good.
Mac Kemp: So, we go to the Marine Memorial which is also called the Iwo Jima and we have actually had several gentlemen from Tallahassee that were at Iwo Jima in World War II. They all told me, every one of them that were marines, if we don't go to that memorial, I'm not going. That's the one I want to go to, the others are great but, that's the one I want to go to. So ... and the Marine Memorial was impressive too because you don't realize how big that thing is.
John Curry: It's huge.
Mac Kemp: Until you go and it was just recently renovated, they finished renovations about a month ago. So, the whole area's been renovated so, that's pretty cool. We go to the Air Force Memorial and then final stop before we go back to the airport is Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is ... I think, this is just my opinion but I think it's the most solemn ceremony in America. And if you don't appreciate and aren't humbled by that ceremony, you should get out. You should go somewhere else. It's an amazing thing to watch the changing of the guard. It's ... they've been doing this for decades and decades without stopping. It's just ... there's something there, it's almost a religious experience.
John Curry: Well you know, the last flight I was on, you and I were ... I grabbed one of the guards we were talking to and he was one of the guys who served and refused to step down even in the threat of hurricane.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: And they were told, you don't have to do this. They said, "Are you kidding me?" They didn't want to miss it. I want you to share this because ... tell the story about what happens when you hear the taps or their scraping their [crosstalk 00:28:36].
Mac Kemp: This is something that we didn't realize on the first flight and we found out later on that ... the thing is, the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown is done the same way every half hour, on and on and has been done this way for decades. They don't change it at all. Except for one small subtle thing that we learned that we didn't know in the first flight but, we learned later. They told us that when they know, the guards, when they are doing their patrol when they are walking back and forth with their weapon that when they know that there are veterans in the crowd, they scrape their heel.
John Curry: The tap.
Mac Kemp: The tap. The scrape it on the ground and when you stop and you know that, then you listen for it. They actually do. So, it's a ... and so we tell the veterans that after we pull up to tell them to look for that. That helps honor them also. They're being honored by these active duty army guards at the Tomb of the Unknown.
John Curry: It's worth commenting on this too about how solemn this is and the people that are there, they don't put up with any shenanigans. You're not going to be talking, you're not going to be fidgeting, you're not going to be making noise. It's not tolerate.
Mac Kemp: No.
John Curry: It is zero tolerance for that.
Mac Kemp: If you want to look up on the internet, there's dozens and dozens of examples because that's the one thing they will stop for and they will call you out. If you're talking, doing anything that's inappropriate, they have a phrase, some sort of a can phrase that they use but ... it's a sacred ceremony, and that you should be standing and quiet and I'm ... now we've never had a veteran that would [crosstalk 00:30:43].
John Curry: I've never experienced anybody doing anything that [crosstalk 00:30:43].
Mac Kemp: I've not seen it but if you look on the internet [crosstalk 00:30:46].
John Curry: I'm going to check that out. Thanks for that because, the times I've been, three times on the Honor Flight and then one time on my own, I've never witnessed that. When I was in this conference I made sure I went to Arlington. I'm the one if I go to Washington DC, I'm going to that. I just have to.
Mac Kemp: If phones are ringing, which that's one of them or if someone is playing around on their phone or whatever, if they notice that, they call you out.
John Curry: Wow. So folks if you go, hide your phone.
Mac Kemp: Yeah.
John Curry: Turn it off, be quiet. I know on one of the flights we had the pleasure, we were on a tight schedule of actually watching them lower the flag.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: I think I was the only one [crosstalk 00:31:31].
Mac Kemp: We saw that on two flights.
John Curry: Did you?
Mac Kemp: On two flights. Been able to schedule that and that was just something extra that we were able to see and that was great to see that ending ceremony at the end of the day.
John Curry: Right. It's amazing, it's amazing stuff.
Mac Kemp: The thing is though, that's all the Washington flight, the best is yet to come. You know that.
John Curry: What's that?
Mac Kemp: It is I'm coming home.
John Curry: Tell them.
Mac Kemp: Coming home.
John Curry: Tell them what happens when we land.
Mac Kemp: Well, when ... after we finish at Arlington, we have an hours ride back to the airport so, that's usually a time for ... to rest and relax and the veterans are usually talking to each other and telling stories and things that they've never told in their entire lives to anybody before. So, we get back to the airport [crosstalk 00:32:23].
John Curry: Let me interrupt you for a second. I remember you saying one time, telling some group, I forget where because I've heard you speak so many times about how you anticipated everybody falling asleep on the bus or on the plane ride back, tell them what really happens.
Mac Kemp: Actually, the guardians, they always tell me they are praying that the veteran will fall asleep and it has never happened.
John Curry: Let me tell you something folks, if you've not served as a guardian, you should check into that. It's hard now because most of the veterans want a family member to be their guardian, I've been honored to serve as a guardian to two of the people but, it's work. It's work because you're responsible for that person the whole day and taking care of that person but it is such a joy and such a privilege to do that because it's like Mac said earlier, this is a big deal, this is not taken lightly. It's a lot of fun getting to know that person.
Mac Kemp: It is.
John Curry: And others around you.
Mac Kemp: We tell the guardians, don't plan anything on Sunday because you're just going to want to sleep and relax.
John Curry: That's right.
Mac Kemp: Because you will be worn out.
John Curry: I slept to probably 10:30 or 11:00 the next day.
Mac Kemp: Absolutely. You will be tired, you will be tired.
John Curry: And I'm a pretty fit guy but I was tired.
Mac Kemp: But we do have about a two hour flight on the way back. We feed them, give them supper on the way back. We do a couple other things where we honor them along the way. The best part is, is when ... we get back at 9:40 at night, it's pitch black at Tallahassee airport, but when the plane turns and you can see the brightly lit hanger, you always hear what are all those people doing there? That's the great thing about Tallahassee is that there are friends, there are family, there's boy scout troupes, there's military units, there's people from the Tallahassee swing band or whatever organization that's got a [crosstalk 00:34:12].
John Curry: High school kids come [crosstalk 00:34:13].
Mac Kemp: High school kids, we've got just all kinds of people that love veterans. We've had easily from anywhere from 1500 to 2500 people at a time to come out at night and different times and just to welcome the veterans home. They hold flags, there's lots of veterans groups. The patriate guard, lots of other folks that are out there from the military that are all decked out in their uniforms and different things. There's ... we have what's called a water arch salute that is provided by the Tallahassee fire department where they actually shoot water over the top of the airplane as we come in. That's an old World War II tradition to honor people. We give them little gifts and prizes, but the greatest thing is that there's just thousands of people there to shake their hands, pat them on the back, hug their necks. Welcome them back home, and thank them for the service that they provided.
So, they've hopefully had a very long, wonderful day and we hear this all the time, and I'm not making this up, the veterans tell us it was the best day of my entire life and I get worried when they stand next to their wife or something and ... wasn't your wedding day? Or maybe when your child was born? But they say ... this means a lot to them and we have had veterans that I know have been buried in their Honor Flight T-shirts, we don't sell those. We only give those to the veterans that get them.
John Curry: That's the gold color ones.
Mac Kemp: The gold colored shirts. We have had veterans that instead of a flag on top of their casket, have requested that T-shirt.
John Curry: Tell them how they get one like I'm wearing. These aren't given away either.
Mac Kemp: These are ... no, we don't give away the blue guardian T-shirts. The only way that you can get one of those is if you have been a guardian on one of our flights.
John Curry: Mines not for sale.
Mac Kemp: We don't sell those except we would ... actually we don't even sell them if a guardian needed one, we'd provide, veterans, we'd provide extras but, we never sell them.
John Curry: You do have some that are for sale.
Mac Kemp: We do, they're just regular gray shirts with our logo on the front and back. But, we love to get advertising there but, we don't sell the veteran or the guardian shirts. You see ... and we thought well, this is just a one day trip, we're just taking them up to see some memorials that was all it is. It turns out to be much more than that.
John Curry: Big time. I was telling a friend last week that I was going to be interviewing you and he said ... for the podcast and he said what in the world does Honor Flight have to do with retirement planning. You do retirement, you're a secure retirement podcast. I said, "Think about it, these are people, all of them are retired. Most of the people that are volunteering, most of the people that are serving as guardians have retired and they're doing things to have other interests". I said, "When you retire, it's not just about having enough money for retirement, what are you going to be doing? What's your health like? Are you able to go on a flight or a cruise?" So, it's all encompassing.
Mac Kemp: Yes.
John Curry: It's not just about planning because the money side, that's why we want diverse topics when we do these.
Mac Kemp: People are very passionate about veterans, I mean we found that over and over and over, it amazes me how supportive. We have a lot of people that are just constantly checking in with us to say, "Is everything going okay? Do you need anything? Is there anything that we can do to help?" And it's not about me. It's not about the board, it's not about even the Honor Flight organization. It's about the veterans.
John Curry: Absolutely.
Mac Kemp: And that's what it has to be about.
John Curry: And some people listen to this may be skeptical and say, "Yeah, every charity says that" but, I'll tell you folks, the people that I have been involved with, with Honor Flight, is nothing but good quality people who care and it's not self-serving. It's, hey, what can I do? I've seen people who ... well, I remember one time I needed help with the wheelchairs. People just come grab them, they help. The one where you had me working so hard, that's where you wore me out.
Let's do this, let's talk about how people get involved. Lets ... I know we’ve got to wrap up here in about five minutes ... three to five minutes, let's just talk a little bit about how can people get involved? Obviously donations are appreciated and needed.
Mac Kemp: Sure.
John Curry: And I know when I was helping with some of the fundraising I would ask people, help me send at least one veteran on this flight. And at the time it was $500.00, is it still about that?
Mac Kemp: It's actually gone up a little bit because the cost to charter a flight has just gone up astronomically. We're paying much more than we originally started with six years ago, so it's probably more closer to $700.00.
John Curry: $700.00, would you mind sharing with our listeners what it costs to fund this thing each year?
Mac Kemp: No, it's a little over $100,000.00 to send the flight. This last flight to actually charter the airplane for one day was just over $93,000.00. Then we charter the buses, we pay food for the veterans and the guardians for all three, actually guardians do pay their own way though so, that should be clarified. These people whether family or not, they really want to go on this flight and so, they pay their own way.
John Curry: Yeah and that was $500.00, is it still $500.00?
Mac Kemp: Still $500.00.
John Curry: Okay. [crosstalk 00:39:49].
Mac Kemp: But, that doesn't cover all the costs. But that helps defray the costs.
John Curry: But, $500.00 folks is a bargain so, if you want to go, the $500.00 is well worth it.
Mac Kemp: It'd be a great day and everything's included for that. So, the ways you can help is donate money, donate your time, we need volunteers, this is 100% volunteer organization. The board are all volunteers and then we have a group of probably 50, 60 folks that come out and volunteer and help us get ready for each flight and do different events for us. We've got the Veterans Day Parade coming up and we'll have school kids, we'll have different other folks that have volunteered that will go out and hand out flags to the crowd and just represent Honor Flight. We'll have some of our veterans in the trucks with us that will be waving at the crowd as they pass. They go by. They love that, these guys love to get out and I say guys, it's men and women.
John Curry: Yes.
Mac Kemp: That come from all three wars. The other thing that you could do is you could be a guardian. And a guardian again is a commitment for all day plus you have to come to an orientation. Two hour orientation just so you know exactly what's expected and how to make sure that everybody gets there around safely. So, guardians, volunteering, donations and then coming out and helping us at our events, different things like that. So, there's a wide variety of things that are always going on.
John Curry: I'm amazed at how this community has reached out to support Honor Flight. As we were getting ready, having lunch earlier, you were sharing with us that you send out a request, a plea for $3000.00 but you didn't get $3000.00. What did you get?
Mac Kemp: No, we got way over $26,000.00. It was because the wheels on the wheelchairs had degraded and fallen apart and we had to replace all of them. It was a $3000.00 job just for the parts and then we had the Leon County Sheriff's office team that was going to do the work for us. But, we had to buy the tools to put them on with. We had to buy the tires. When we put the plea out, the Tallahassee and North Florida Region, actually also South Georgia, really just came through. They just were amazing and that's going to help us get this next flight off the ground.
John Curry: That's great, that's great. How are you doing on fundraising so far for the next flight?
Mac Kemp: We're doing pretty good right now. We're doing pretty good, we do have some donations coming up from the city and the county, they provide some small ... some portion, donation. We're doing pretty good right now but, any donation's going to help us get more veterans.
John Curry: Okay, tell people how to get in touch with you. [crosstalk 00:42:36].
Mac Kemp: Oh yeah I forgot, this is the most important part, send us your veterans.
John Curry: Right.
Mac Kemp: That's the most important part. If you know a veteran from World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, that would like to go on this flight, the cost 100% free. We will not even accept a donation from a veteran before they go.
John Curry: Not the first year anyway.
Mac Kemp: Not the first year.
John Curry: Now once they've been, we'll take their money.
Mac Kemp: We'll take it. But before they go, they can't donate. Because we want them to feel honored and appreciated, 100% of the way. So please go to our website at www.honorflighttallahassee.org and you find our applications there for veterans. Print those off and have these veterans send them out. Fill them out and send them in, please.
John Curry: That's great. I'm just pleased to be a part of it with you and want to get even more involved but, Honor Flight's just been a great organization. But, I do want my gold shirt so, I'm a Vietnam veteran so, I want to go.
Mac Kemp: You are, you can.
John Curry: But, I want to go, but I tell while I'm being honest with you, we talked about it before kidding around but, I would feel guilty taking a seat from someone else.
Mac Kemp: I hear that from every single veteran that goes.
John Curry: Because the other person ... there are other people who are more deserving and I've got my two guardian T-shirts for going and I've worked on the flight and will continue doing so but, I do want to go.
Mac Kemp: You remember that General Snowden?
John Curry: Yeah.
Mac Kemp: And I tried to talk him to going, if anyone ever deserved to take this trip.
John Curry: It was him.
Mac Kemp: It was him.
John Curry: Absolutely.
Mac Kemp: And he absolutely refused and he said save my spot for somebody else and he never went with us and I was the one that wished he would go.
John Curry: Sure.
Mac Kemp: But, he never would because he wanted somebody else to have that spot. Amazing guy.
John Curry: Mac Kemp thank you for all you do with Honor Flight.
Mac Kemp: Thank you.
John Curry: And thank you for being with us today.
Mac Kemp: Thank you for your support. We appreciate you very much.
John Curry: You're welcome, it's an honor to be part of Honor Flight and help out in any way we can and people please, if you have questions, call me, email me, I'll help any way I can but, this is a worthy cause. Again Mac, thank you so much.
Mac Kemp: Thank you.
Speaker 3: If you would like to know more about John Curry Services you can request a complimentary information package by visit johnhcurry.com/podcast. Again that is johnhcurry.com/podcast. Or you can call his office at 850-562-3000, again that is 850-562-3000. John H. Curry, Chartered Life Underwriter, Charter Financial Consultant, Accredited Estate Planner, Master's in Science and Financial Services, Certified in Long Term Care. Registered Representative and Financial Advisor, Park Avenues Securities LLC. Securities, Products, and Services and Advisory Services are offered through Park Avenue Securities a Registered Broker Dealer and Investment Advisor. Financial Representative of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, New York. Park Avenue Securities is an indirect wholly un-subsidiary of Guardian. North Florida Financial Corporation is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Park Avenue Securities. Park Avenue Securities is a member of Finra and SIPC.
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