PHOENIX — Susan Howe just wanted to let the nation’s veterans know how much they are appreciated.
It’s the simple motivation behind what is now one of the most successful Honor Flight chapters in America.
Twelve years after founding Honor Flight Arizona, Howe is stepping down from the board of directors to spend more time with her recently retired husband and their grandchildren.
“That’s been really comfortable knowing Honor Flight will continue in Arizona," Howe said while reflecting on her decision.
"I don’t have to worry about them (other board members) stepping away, saying this is too much work. No, they’re willing to do the work."
Honor Flight started sending veterans to their memorials in Washington D.C. back in 2005, but until Howe’s vision and determination, there was no chapter in the western United States.
“I was talking to a friend and she said to me, ’You would not believe what I did with my dad this weekend,’ and she told me about her honor flight trip with her dad,” Howe said about the first time she heard of the organization.
Howe’s dad is a World War II veteran and she was interested in signing him up for a trip, but quickly realized there was no chapter in Arizona.
Howe created a local sign-up and she said the interest was overwhelming.
“I remember calling our director in Ohio and crying, saying we have 500 veterans signed up, but we don’t have any money," Howe said.
"He said, ‘Once you get it started, it will roll.’”
He was right, and now 80 flights and thousands of veterans honored later, Arizona’s Honor Flight chapter has the momentum it needs to remain successful.
“To see them cry as they went through the airport and kids shaking their hands and saying thank you for your service – it’s mind boggling,” Howe said.
It might sound simple, but this is the essence of Howe’s mission.
Though she is stepping away from the board, Howe still hopes to fly with the organization as a guardian and remain involved as much as possible.
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