Honor Flight adds Myrtle Beach

Columbia-based Honor Flight South Carolina next week will announce the program is expanding to Myrtle Beach.

It will be the fourth region in the state to be added to the program, which flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for free visits to their national memorial.

The Myrtle Beach flight is tentatively scheduled for November.

Honor Flight Grand Strand joins chapters in the Upstate, Lowcountry and the Midands.

The Columbia organization will split a $10,000 donation from Verizon Wireless to get the Myrtle Beach flight fundraising effort started.

Grand Strand organizer Bert Cassels said he decided to start a flight after seeing a documentary on ETV.

"It just got to me that we have to do something to honor this greatest generation," the retired Navy captain said.

There are 3 million World War II veterans nationwide, but they are dying at a rate of 1,500 a day. The Honor Flight Network has 73 hubs in 30 states, all dedicated to flying as many veterans as possible to the memorial.

Since November 2008, Honor Flight South Carolina and various chapters around the state have raised $405,000 and flown 800 World War II veterans to see the National World War II Memorial.

Simpsonville organized the first Honor Flight in May 2008, flying 101 veterans from the Upstate.

Since then, chapters have spread from there to Columbia to Charleston - called Honor Flight Upstate, Honor Flight South Carolina and Honor Flight Lowcountry, respectively.

Even the tiny Lancaster County town of Kershaw - population 1,500 - formed a chapter, raising $50,000 needed to fly 100 veterans from that area last November.

Each chartered flight costs $50,000. Much of the money is raised by guardians - individuals who pay $500 to assist the vets on the one-day trips. Many of the veterans are in poor health, some in wheelchairs.

Honor Flight South Carolina organizer Bill Dukes said he already has scheduled two more flights from Columbia Metropolitan Airport set for April and November.

The April flight will feature six Vietnam veterans to serve as honorary guardians.

"We want to honor our World War II vets," Dukes said, "but we can't forget our Korea and Vietnam vets."