Honoring The Past By Connecting With Present: WHS Senior Raises Money For Honor Flight

By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor

Several veterans will be able to take the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. because of the senior project of Mitchell Carnahan at Willard High School. He raised $1,000 for the veterans, with a cost of $400 per seat.

As part of his project, Carnahan was able to act as guardian to Barry Jester of Willard. The pair of veterans took the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. along with Jester’s father, Lee. They flew from John Glenn International Airport in Columbus.

“When I went to my first Honor Flight and we were escorts for the guardians and the veterans, I said to my mom that would be pretty cool,” he recalled. “I kept thinking, and we went to another Honor Flight and I said, you know what? Maybe I want to do that for my senior project, become a guardian.”

“Mom” is Courtney Carnahan, a teacher at Willard High School and one of the core group of teachers working with Honor Flight. His father is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

He said he talked to the guardian. Carnahan had to write an essay on why he wanted to be a guardian for his senior project. He also had to outline what he intended to do.

At first, his request was turned down, Carnahan explained. He was not 18 years old, one of the requirements for a guardian and the committee was slightly hesitant. He would turn 18 four days after the return of Honor Flight.

“They finally said yes,” he said. “We’ll get you on the Oct. 20 flight. Since our school had given money to sponsor veterans, I was able to be the guardian of two of the veterans that we sponsored.”

One of the veterans was unable to make the flight because of illness. The other was Barry Jester. For a short part of the day, he was also Lee Jester’s guardian.

That first Honor Flight when he was a junior in high school left an impression.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Carnahan said. “They had done it before when I was an eighth grader, and I really wanted to go then and couldn’t.

“I saw the videos and pictures and I was thinking it would be something like that,” he noted. “But then we got to Columbus, and it was something completely different. Then when I saw everything in action, it was amazing.”

Carnahan said it was “awesome” to see everyone working together for one cause, the veterans.

“This gauntlet that they make for these veterans,” he added. “It’s amazing.”

The gauntlet is two lines with a runway in the middle. Family, friends and those just wanting to say thank you to the veterans for their service line the patch from the gate to the center of the terminal’s entrance.

His father’s service, along with that of other family members, was something Carnahan said he has lived with all of his life. Some of those veterans cannot make the trip because of health concerns. This, he noted, was also a reason he chose this as his senior project.

As the youngest guardian on Honor Flight, Carnahan said he thinks his age helped him a little bit.

“I was a wheelchair wrangler on the bus,” he explained. “I had to get underneath the bus and get all of the wheelchairs out and set them up and get them ready for all of the veterans. I had to put them away, and that took a little bit of younger person strength.”

There were other guardians on the flight who could not do that.

“It would be nice to be a little bit older because, if you did it multiple times, you would have a little more experience,” he added. “You would know what to do. That would be helpful.”

The sight of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans had an affect on the high school senior. While aging, they each had stories to tell.

“It changes the way that I look at just everything,” Carnahan explained. “I didn’t think that I could do this. As part of my senior project, I sent out a letter to my friends and family and invited them this welcome home ceremony.”

Carnahan wrote if they were not able to be there, that was ok. In his letter, he said he was also raising money to sponsor seats to give veterans a chance to go on Honor Flight. When chosen, a veteran never pays for his flight to Washington, D.C.

“In the end, that is what I want to see happen,” he explained. “I want more and more veterans being able to go. This is definitely an organization that needs the money but also uses the money for good.”

While there is another organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., the veteran must pay for their flight. Carnahan said he paid for his own flight, something he had to do on his own without fundraising.

“I’ve been raising money for their flights,” he said. “I’m over $1,000. I’m able to sponsor two and a little bit more of another seat.”

Carnahan said if any of his friends that are 18 want to make the trip as a guardian, there are so many things they can learn.

“You could take so much away from just talking to these veterans. You get to interact with them and listen to these stories,” he pointed out. “You get to see what they saw at this point in their life. Sometimes it wasn’t the happiest point in their lives.

“It moves and changes you,” Carnahan noted. “All at the same time because you hear their stories and they are about their friends in arms getting killed. It’s sad because they are like it happened and they just tell the story. You are like, oh my gosh. He just died.”

“It makes you kind of look at it through their eyes,” he said. “When they were in that moment.”

There were positives, Carnahan said. However, he saw no negatives on his experience on Honor Flight.

“Everything really went smoothly,” he explained.

Before he even got onto the jet to take them to Washington, D.C., Carnahan said he had to go through a three-hour training session. It dealt with everything from their itinerary to how to open up a wheelchair.

“They told us to be social with the veterans,” he noted. “And not just your veteran but others as well. Make sure you take pictures. They went over some of the history of Honor Flight itself.”

At the training session, Carnahan said they were told Bob Dole might meet up with the veterans. He did, indeed, meet with the Honor Flight.

“I was very excited,” he pointed out. “The training got me ready because they told us what we were going to do with our veterans. They went through every single step of the day.”

Carnahan has flown before, with trips to Germany and England. On the morning of Honor Flight, he said he had to be at the airport at 4:30 a.m.

The flight landed in Baltimore. The Honor Flight took a bus to the capital with police escorts from the National Park Service to the memorials and monuments.

Their day in Washington, D.C. was packed with activity. They went to Arlington National Cemetery and saw the changing of the guard where they met up with another Honor Flight from Austin, Texas that was entirely women veterans.

Other locations included the Marine Memorial, the Iwo Jima Monument, Korean Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.

“Barry had a name that he wanted to find at the Vietnam Memorial he wanted to pencil over,” Carnahan said. “We went and immediately found it.”

The name was Emmons Funk, Jr. His parents live outside of Willard.

“Barry said that morning, I have somebody for you,” Carnahan recalled. “I went to the virtualwall.org and found him just like that.”

For a young man just turning 18, watching veterans look at the wall and see names they served with was moving, according to Carnahan.

“You could see that it moved them,” he pointed out. “Knowing people on that wall.”

Carnahan said, while they saw so many monuments, he would like to return to see the White House someday. He said he felt he matured a lot in just that one day, however.

“It was a plane of old men,” he explained. “At first the older guys were laughing and joking. After everything, they had this look of seriousness on their faces.

“That’s what really moved me,” Carnahan said. “They were able to go from laughing and joking around to this look of realization that we did this. And we did this for your generation.”

After seeing the Vietnam Wall, Carnahan said he sat down with Lee and Barry Jester.

“I thanked them for everything they have done for our country,” he noted. “And for my generation. And for the generations to come. Because of them, we have what we have today.”

When he graduates, Carnahan said he is looking at college and studying engineering, with a goal of technical or electrical engineering.

Carnahan said he would be a guardian on Honor Flight, something he can do. His mentor for his senior project, Gene Frankart, has applied and been accepted and is on the waiting list for Honor Flight.

“I would love to be his guardian,” Carnahan said. “I could tell it changed me that day. Just to be a guardian, I would like to do that every day of my life if I could. That would be amazing.”

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