SAN DIEGO — World War II veteran Andy Huerta was 17 years old when he joined the Navy as a junior at Calexico High School in 1943.
“I was 18 years old when I was a petty officer,” said Andy. “Every shipmate that I had – they're probably all gone.”
Andy’s younger brother 87-year-old Humberto Huerta, who says he always wanted to be a Marine, fought in the Korean War.
The Huerta brothers on Wednesday were surrounded by the students in Thurgood Marshall Middle School’s Philanthropists Club. The club had a near unanimous vote to make Honor Flight their chosen charity to raise funds for this year.
Honor Flight is a nonprofit that sends World War II veterans and now Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their respective memorials.
Through bake sales and Valentine’s grams, the students in the club raised money to send Andy Huerta on an Honor Flight in May where his brother will join him.
On Wednesday, the students presented Andy with a check for $1,908. Each flight costs $2,500 and Honor Flight will make up the difference.
"We wanted to give you this to thank you for your service and also we hope you enjoy your trip,” said Lola Wall, president of the club. “I hope you know how much what you have done really means to us.”
As students thanked them for their service, they also asked questions. One that ran deep with Humberto is what he learned while serving in what is known as the "forgotten war."
"I am proud that I served,” he said. “I’m not proud how bitter that was. A lot of my friends didn't make it, but we have to do what is right.”
And like his brother, Andy says they would do it all over again.
“I am proud that I served my country,” he said.
These members of “the greatest generation” were proud to leave a younger generation with this final thought:
“Kids, remember, your country always comes first,” said Andy.
Honor Flight San Diego shared the following facts about their unique program:
- Honor Flight San Diego is 1 of about 140 hubs in the Honor Flight network
- Dave Smith is the founder and started this hub in 2009 after he took his WWII USMC father on a what was called a "Lone Eagle" flight. Dave wanted to volunteer with the San Diego hub and there wasn't one, so he started the nonprofit. His father just passed in February so this upcoming flight may be hard for Dave going on the first one after his father died.
- Honor Flight San Diego started flying veterans in 2010 and to date has flown over 1,400 veterans to Washington, DC at no cost to them.
- Honor Flights are 100% donor funded and gets no government funding to meet mission. Honor Flight San Diego is a 100% all-volunteer organization, there are no paid employees.
- Each trip costs about $250,000 and Honor Flight San Diego tries to do two per year. In 2017, Honor Flight San Diego had to cancel a flight due to not having enough funding. It was heart wrenching as Honor Flight San Diego says they had hundreds of WWII vets on the list ready to go and no money to do the trip.
- Every veteran flies at no cost to them - Honor Flight San Diego says it is the least we can do to thank them for their service.
- The trip is 3 days long and it is more than visiting the memorials built for their service and sacrifice, it is also a time for them to get some closure, meet new veterans and share their stories.
- Priority to go on the trip is for the most senior veterans first, currently our WWII veterans, and for those from any era with terminal illnesses. Last spring, Honor Flight San Diego started taking Korea War veterans and out of the 1,400 veterans who have gone on the flight, the vast majority were WWII. Honor Flight San Diego is still looking for SoCal WWII vets.
- Visit www.honorflightsandiego.org