EAC Photo: From left, Bob Rivera poses with Eric Bejarano and his father, Manuel, and his step-mom, Jackie, at a recent Lion’s Club meeting.
By Kris McBride/EAC
THATCHER – Eric Bejarano, director of the Eastern Arizona College Small Business Development Center, recently thanked the Safford Lions Club for their generous sponsorship allowing him to serve as a guardian for his father, MSgt/USAF/Retired Manuel Bejarano, on an Honor Flight Network trip to Washington, D.C. During his presentation, Bejarano urged club members to inform any veterans they know to contact him for assistance in applying for an Honor Flight Network journey.
The Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit organization that provides free flights for veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. Each Honor Flight veteran is assigned a guardian who assists them throughout the visit. Since 2005, more than 260,000 veterans from 44 states have traveled with the Honor Flight Network to see the memorials that were built for them.
“Many veterans live out their days unable to see these memorials,” said Bejarano. “The Honor Flight Network ensures their sacrifices are not forgotten and shows appreciation that is so long overdue.”
Bejarano and his father traveled with 30 other veterans from Arizona. Throughout the trip, they were greeted with a hero’s welcome. Something most Vietnam veterans were not accustomed to when arriving home after serving in a war that had become increasingly unpopular.
“Those who came home from the Vietnam War 50 years ago didn’t receive a warm welcome,” said Bejarano. “They had invectives hurled upon them, were spit upon, and soon learned that GI benefits were almost nonexistent. They weren’t necessarily looking for a parade but for basic support to readjust to civilian life after serving in a brutal war.”
Throughout the trip, Honor Flight volunteers assembled crowds to cheer, hold signs, and wave flags for the veterans upon their arrival. At each airport, random travelers would join the crowds to pay tribute to the veterans.
“When we arrived home from war nearly 50 years ago, I didn’t even believe we were human beings,” said Manuel Bejarano. “But throughout this visit, people stood and clapped for us everywhere we went. It was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. I thank my son for talking me into going.”
The veterans were escorted to the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the Military Women’s Memorial, and the U.S. Airforce Memorial. They visited Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Meyer, Fort McHenry, and the U.S. Naval Academy. At each stop, they met comrades in arms, mourned the war dead who would never see their memorials, and the millions of veterans for whom they were built too late.
“It was a moving journey, and for that I thank you,” said Bejarano. “These memorials belong to them, but for so many, they are out of reach. We need to do everything we can to help the greatest generation of veterans see how grateful we are for the sacrifices they made.”