Plans are underway for the 7th Flight to Honor Polk, which will carry 86 local military veterans and their sponsors from Lakeland to Washington, D.C, to visit war memorials, on April 26.

More than half of the funds needed for the Allegient charter jet were received via a $40,000 check resulting from the “Clays for a Cause” fundraiser held at the Golotko Ranch in Fort Meade earlier this year, according to Gary Clark, chairman of the Polk Veterans Council.

“We need 86 guardians and 86 veterans” for the one-day trip, he said. “We have 76 guardians already.” Guardians are volunteers who donate (or whose company donates) $500 to accompany and assist each veteran. Four paramedics needed for each flight have previously been covered by Polk County Fire Rescue.

When flights began in Polk in 2015, World War II veterans were still registering.

Now, “We’re mostly flying Vietnam vets,” Clark said. Any veteran can register for free, with preference reserved for those with severe medical conditions. There may be a WWII veteran on the upcoming flight, Clark said.

Applications for veterans and guardians are available online.

Eighty-seven year-old Dave Ray, a retired Air Force pilot who flew air rescue in Viet Nam was on Flight No. 6 out of Lakeland in 2020. Ray said he began volunteering his time handling required paperwork as soon as the Polk Veterans Council chapter was formed.

In 2020, he said, he took a break from the work. “I wanted to make sure I made the flight in case it was the last one,” Ray said.

Seeing the artistry of the Korean War Memorial sculptures and learning that members of the artist’s family were the models was unforgettable, Ray said. He was also surprised by the “breadth of the World War II Memorial.”

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