Okla. woman praises those helping with program honoring veterans
By BRYAN PAINTER | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City (MCT) | Published: September 27, 2014
MIDWEST CITY — Linda Banz read the obituary of the World War II veteran.
Banz found comfort — not in the man’s death, of course, but instead through one of the last activities in his life.
Banz, 70, of Midwest City, has been side-by-side with husband Gary as part of the founding effort of Oklahoma Honor Flights, which allows veterans to go to Washington, D.C., to see their monuments. Gary is the program’s executive director. Linda’s role has been to build and maintain the database and files of all the veteran and guardian applications. The program has made 18 flights — 10 from Oklahoma City, seven from Tulsa and one from Lawton. The 19th flight is scheduled for Oct. 8 from Oklahoma City.
Ceremonies, called Operation 4G — Giving to the Grounded Greatest Generation — also have been held at long-term care veteran centers supported by the state of Oklahoma to primarily honor the service of those who can’t travel to Washington.
The flights alone have included 1,683 veterans.
So narrowing what her heart has absorbed down to one person is tough for Linda Banz. But she offers as an example a 90-plus year-old World War II veteran who was selected and notified for a flight.
Before the obituary
“A week before the flight I received a call from a representative of Adult Protective Services,” Banz said. “They had been called to help the veteran and found the paperwork regarding his selection. He was recovering from a fall and was upset that he had not been able to visit his wife who was in a memory care unit.
“I explained what the honor flight was and made arrangements for one of his home health care nurses to bring him to the send-off ceremony. The rehab center arranged to bring him to the airport to meet us the morning of the flight.”
Banz asked the nurse about the man’s military service.
“Often, on their application, the veterans will minimize their activity during the war,” Banz said. “ ‘Mr. D’ had written ‘platoon leader’ and ‘paratrooper.’ The nurse told me he had a framed shadowbox in his room that included a Purple Heart, a Silver Star, and a Bronze Star.
“She told me he was a paratrooper on D-Day and was dropped behind enemy lines at Normandy. He went on the honor flight and saw our nation’s memorial to the war he fought in, thanks to wonderful and generous Oklahomans who gave their money and time.”
It was about eight weeks later that Banz read this veteran’s obituary in the newspaper. She found some comfort in the fact that he had been able to make the trip to see the World War II Memorial.
“Mr. D’s story symbolizes, for me, what Oklahoma Honor Flights is all about,” she said. “Certainly, there are veterans who did not see combat and some who served stateside. They are no less respected. They served where they were called to serve.
“We owe all of them our respect and gratitude.”
An effort of many
When Oklahoma Honor Flights started, program officials received 105 applications from the national office from veterans who were hoping they could go with someone or were hoping someone would start flights for Oklahoma veterans, Banz said.
At one point in 2012, she said they had about 650 World War II veteran applications on file.
“We were scrambling to get as many veterans on a flight as soon as possible. We took six flights that year,” Banz said.
She maintains computer spreadsheets for all applications, calls the veterans and guardians for each flight and sends out letters to them before the flight.
She also calls them when she receives an application.
Before the flight, she makes the bus assignments and prepares the flight manifest for the charter air company.
Then, during the send-off ceremony the evening before the flight, she introduces each veteran by name, hometown, branch of service and gives a short summary of their service.
“There are dozens of people involved with everything it takes to make this happen for 168 people, half of whom are veterans in their late 80s or 90s, a few on oxygen, and nearly half of them in wheelchairs,” she said. “When the flight is out of Tulsa, our volunteer group there plans the send-off and welcome home events.”
Honoring the veteran
But even with all the logistics, Banz said all involved in the program are determined to never lose their focus — honoring the veteran.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to give back, a little, to those who, in the words of one of our veteran’s sons, ‘saved the world for democracy,’’’ she said. “We cannot overstate what they did and the impact of their service on the stage of human history.
“It is a blessing to sit on the stage during our send-off ceremony and look into the faces of our veterans and later, to hear their grateful messages on the phone or read their thank you notes. It is a blessing to look into the faces of young people who escort the veterans and complete the ‘exchange zone’ ceremony.
“This project continues to remind me that God answers desperate prayers. It is so much bigger than one person or a few people. If I work like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God, He fills in the gaps and makes the difference.”
©2014 The Oklahoman. Distributed by MCT Information Services