OXFORD — Tom Ryan of Kingfield says we must remember those who have fought for our nation.

“I think it is important to give something back to a generation that gave so much of themselves and got so little in return,” said Ryan, who accompanied 43 veterans last weekend on an Honor Flight Maine tour of Washington, D.C.

Korean War veteran Robert Pearson of Waldoboro and Oxford Fire and Rescue firefighter/EMT Tom Ryan aboard last weekend’s Honor Flight Maine. Submitted photo

Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that honors American veterans for their service and sacrifices. The organization transports veterans to Washington to tour, experience and reflect at the city’s many memorials.

Top priority is given to terminally ill veterans of all conflicts and World War II survivors. Korean and Vietnam veterans are also transported on a first-come, first-served, space-available basis. Each veteran is accompanied by a guardian, typically a family member.

Laurie Sidelinger, chairperson of the Honor Flight Maine board, said honorees were primarily World War II veterans, but the Korean and Vietnam wars were also represented.

“We had another 10 veterans on board who served as guardians of our Honor Flight veterans,” she said.

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The veterans visited war memorials, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and memorials for each branch of the military. They also visited Arlington National Cemetery during the changing of the guard.

Honor Flight Maine recently expanded its medical team, Sidelinger said. The team includes a hospice nurse, paramedics and registered nurses. Ryan, as a firefighter and an advanced EMT with Oxford Fire and Rescue and New Gloucester Fire and Rescue, was responsible for providing initial medical care to veterans, should a medical emergency have arisen.

“Thankfully,” he said, “we didn’t have to use those skills.”

Ryan said he was inspired to volunteer his medical expertise for the flight by Commander Johnny Maynard of Kingfield American Legion Norton-Wuori Post 61.

Ryan’s father, Fulton Ryan, served in the Army prior to Vietnam and is a member of the post.

“There were a lot of men from my hometown were involved in WWII and never did get the opportunity to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This is a good way to honor not only my hometown war veterans but all veterans.”

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David Hodgkiss, Jules Huston and Tom Ryan at the World War II Memorial. The three were part of the volunteer medical team for last weekend’s Honor Flight Maine. Submitted photo

The experience, he added, is one he will not forget and one he hopes to repeat in the future.

“I couldn’t even prepare for what I was going to experience,” he said. “It was an emotional experience. Those men and women deserve this and more. It was phenomenal all the way around.”

Joining the Honor Flight was Robert Robichaud, a Korean War veteran who lives at the Maine Veterans Home in Paris.

Sidelinger said one of the highlights of the trip is mail call. About 50 pieces of mail are distributed to each veteran during the flight. Mail comes from various organizations, government officials and individuals. Mail call was a particularly touching part of the weekend for Robichaud, she said.

“Mr. Robichaud’s dad died when he was 12,” she said. “He didn’t have family to mail him letters when he was in the military. He touched each and every one of those letters. You could tell they meant a lot to him.

“I’ve had veterans tell me they have always felt like a nobody but this experience makes them feel like a somebody. These veterans are able to honor the lives of their friends who didn’t make it. It gives them closure.”

The next Honor Flight Maine is scheduled for Sept. 20-23.

“A lot of people think everything is given to us by corporate sponsors,” she said. “That is not the case. We pay for flights. We pay for hotels. We pay for everything. It is a lot of bake sales and fundraising.

“This really gets in your heart and you want to be there for every flight. You could tell this had a huge impact on Tom. He worked tirelessly, not just as a part of the medical team, but assisting with every task. He is passionate about what he does for a career, and he is passionate about our veterans. He is definitely an amazing addition to our organization.”


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