ODESSA, Texas — Odessans Marci West and her husband John West still remember the events leading up to their son’s death on Aug. 30, 2010.
Matthew West, a staff sergeant with the 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, died after his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. Four other soldiers died after the explosion.
A Michigan native, John West said his son — a 1992 graduate of Gaylord High School of Gaylord, Mich., and a 1997 graduate of Northern Michigan University — was inspired to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“He knew that was a job that would save people’s lives,” John West said about his son’s decision to join the EOD regiment.
Now Gold Star parents — or parents of a soldier who has died during service — the Wests will be one of three Gold Star families from Odessa invited during the inaugural Permian Basin Honor Flight scheduled for September 2014.
The announcement was made during a Tuesday morning news conference at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center. The purpose of the event was to officially kick-off the fundraising effort for the trip.
Part of the scheduled trip will include a stop at Arlington National Ceremony, where Matthew West is buried, for a wreath laying ceremony.
“It’s going to be emotional seeing those veterans who literally went through hell and back honoring them,” John West said.
U.S. Representative Mike Conaway, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said his staff in Washington D.C., will help with the tour. He was visibly choked up, holding back tears at times, when talking about the organization Tuesday.
“I’ve attended funerals throughout the time I’ve been in Congress … and I’ve stood with families on the worst days of their lives when they’ve buried a loved one who sacrificed their lives,” Conaway said. “It’s just an emotional experience.”
Also in attendance were Odessa Mayor David Turner, Midland County Judge Michael Bradford and State Senator Kel Seliger.
The Honor Flight, deriving from the “Creating America Supports You Texas” non-profit, offers round-trip experiences to World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans at no cost to them. Money is raised through donations. Jack Barnes, director of the Honor Flight, said the organization needs to raise $240,000 to pay for the Permian Basin trip.
Turner, who has been asked to be on the flight to Washington D.C., said he was honored to represent the Permian Basin on the trip. Turner said he will pay his own way for the trip and that the mayors of Odessa and Midland would try to alternate years on who would make the trip.
Barnes said the organization will take 143 total veterans on a charter flight on Southwest Airlines. The list of veterans will not be available until August, after the organization has gone through a screening process, Barnes said. The veterans selected for this flight will all be from the counties that make up the Permian Basin.
“Our sense of urgency is, we must do it now, to honor these Greatest Generation veterans,” Barnes said. “We certainly need the public’s help to make this trip possible.”
The trip — a three-day, two-night stay in Washington, D.C. — includes buses, hotels and other amenities for the veterans on the flights, Barnes said. Usually, a veteran can bring a care taker or family member with them; however, the guests usually have to pay their own way.
During the trip, the veterans will travel to all the war memorials and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery.
Dick Galloway, a Vietnam veteran and currently serving on the board of directors for the Permian Basin Honor flight, said it was “wonderful” that the organization was putting a location in West Texas.
Honor Flight also has flights located in Lubbock, San Antonio, Amarillo, Fort Worth, Austin Houston, Abilene, and other locations throughout the country.
Galloway’s father, James Galloway, was a World War II veteran who died a few years ago and was unable to go on an Honor Flight trip. Galloway said he hopes to get the chance to send others out there to see the memorials built in their honor.
“It’s important we get them out there pretty darn quick,” Galloway said.
“You think about the young men and the young women and all the citizens of America that were truly fighting for our lifestyle … because if we would have lost that war, America wouldn’t be the America we know today.” Turner said.