Local vet gets trip of a lifetime

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

This past Saturday, Bainbridge Vietnam veteran Benny Hayes experienced the trip of a lifetime, when he was given the opportunity to board the Tallahassee honor flight and visit Washington D.C.

Hayes applied for the honor flight program three years ago, but knew his chances were slim. Honor flight takes veterans in order of application and war. WWII veterans have first priority, followed by the Korean War veterans and finally Vietnam veterans.

Hayes finally received a notification informing him to fill out a medical form and get approved by his doctor to take the trip. Hayes thought this was it; it was finally his time. He later received a letter telling him he did not make the cutoff, but if a veteran had to cancel for any reason he was on standby.

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Hayes didn’t care that he was only on standby; he fully believed if it was meant to be he would finally get to visit Washington D.C. At 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, all his dreams came true. A veteran had to cancel and Hayes would be boarding the Tallahassee honor flight at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Hayes could hardly sleep. He woke up at 2:30 a.m. and arrived at the airport hangar at 4:30 a.m. where he met his guardian for the trip, along with other veterans who would be partaking in this right of passage. The men were given a brief orientation and provided breakfast by the Crawfordville boy scouts. Hayes said he was truly thankful for the boy scouts and was happy they got to share the veteran’s excitement in this moment.

The veterans boarded their flight and arrived in Baltimore at 9 a.m., where they were loaded onto a charter bus and escorted by police through the city. Hayes could not believe they had a police escort complete with lights and sirens, who was stopping traffic just for them.

The charter bus had a guide who explained everything as they passed. The first stop they made was Hayes’ favorite. They saw the Vietnam Wall, which had an alphabetical listing of all the men who had passed during their time of service. Hayes was able to locate one of his classmates, helicopter pilot Herbert Crosby and reflect on his time with him for a moment.

They also visited the WWII Memorial, where they met Senator Dole. Senator Dole is a WWII veteran that lives in Washington D.C. and visits the Memorial daily. They additionally visited the Korea Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and ended at the Air Force Memorial. Hayes enjoyed that memorial as well because it was the only service memorial they saw, and he was a member of the Air Force.

Hayes’ most memorable moment of the day was visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“If you go to Washington D.C. and see nothing else, see that because it was truly amazing,” he said.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in Arlington Cemetery and Hayes was impressed with the meticulous routine the guard follows. He marches 21 steps south, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, marches 21 steps down the mat, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces south for 21 seconds and repeats the routine until he is relieved at the Changing of the Guard.

After the day’s activities, the veterans were flown home and arrived back in Tallahassee at 9:30 p.m., but the surprises weren’t over. The men received letters from several individuals such as, the Governor of Florida and several Congressmen. The letter was complete with their full name and branch of service.

As the men departed the hangar, there were 100 flags adorning the walkway and family members there to surprise them. Hayes was surprised to see his granddaughters, Christy and Ella Grace, but truly shocked when he saw his wife, who is unable to drive and best friends, Bill and Judy Davis.

Hayes still has not processed what an amazing day it really was, but encourages all veterans to apply for this once in a lifetime opportunity.