PHOTO STORY: Virtual honor flight brings recognition to area veterans

Published 9:39 am Friday, April 8, 2022

NILES — A local youth organization honored a pair of veterans by allowing them to experience the nation’s capital without leaving the city of Niles.

Friends, family and community members convened at the Greater Niles Senior Center Tuesday night as the Ki-ka-ma-sung Society Children of The American Revolution honored local veterans George Beaumont and Tom Hammond with a virtual honor flight presentation.

Because both veterans experienced difficulties with mobility, the Ki-Ka-Ma-Sung Society of the CAR decided to bring honor to them by providing a virtual reality honor flight via Honor Everywhere, a virtual reality experience for veterans who are too sick or frail to physically travel on an Honor Flight. 

The honor flight experience was viewed through a headset while the veterans were seated and a television was set up so guests could see what the veterans were seeing in their headsets. While a virtual reality honor flight is not a substitute for the experience of an actual honor flight, for many veterans who are ill or elderly an actual honor flight is not possible or medically safe. According to Ki-Ka-Ma-Sung President Debbie Ditz, the virtual reality equipment was purchased using funds raised for the project.

The event coincided with the 127th anniversary of the CAR, the nation’s oldest and largest patriotic youth organization.

“Honor Flight is a wonderful program that takes our veterans to see their monuments in Washington DC,” said Michigan C.A.R. State President James Kraatz. “But all honor flights have been grounded nationwide for two years because of COVID. All of the veterans on the honor flight waiting lists are getting older and some of those veterans are getting sick. That makes it even more important right now that we help to provide the opportunity to bring virtual honor to Michigan’s veterans.”

Hammond and Beaumont both served during the Vietnam War. Hammond served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter mechanic. While he was not a pilot, Hammond flew on several missions to ensure that the crew got safely home before being discharged with the rank of Specialist E-5.

Beaumont served the U.S. Air Force with nuclear and missile operations in North Dakota as a Senior Master Sergeant E-8. Beaumont retired in 1983 after 20 years of service.  

In addition to the virtual honor flight, the two veterans received certificates of appreciation and commemorative pins from several organizations as well as Department of Defense commemorative lapel pins from the Rebecca Dewey Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and handmade quilts from the Quilts of Valor, a national nonprofit nonpolitical volunteer organization aiming to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing.

“These quilts are not to be folded up on a shelf and saved for special occasions,” said Quilts of Valor State President Lynn Lebeck. “They are meant to go on that favorite recliner or wherever it is you spend your time. When you’re having one of those days – and those who serve know what those days are – you wrap yourself up in your quilt, feel good things. In appreciation of everyone involved in Quilts of Valor, it’s been my honor and pleasure to present you with your quilts and to say thank you for your service and welcome home.”

Beaumont and Hammond were both moved by the presentation.

“I want to thank you all for coming,” Beaumont said. “We couldn’t have done it without you. It’s a national endeavor, not individual. We should always remember that.”

“I’m absolutely amazed,” Hammond said. “I know about six people here, and they’re family. I don’t know any of these other people. I’m just amazed that they would come out and do something like this for somebody they didn’t know. It makes me feel good that somebody does care. It’s not a set thing where they had to come; they volunteered to come and help do this. I’m just amazed that they would do that.”