PVAMU Veteran Students Give Back to Flight #55 Initiative

Seven Prairie View A&M University Veterans Services students recently participated in the trip of a lifetime, escorting a total of 51 World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans to D.C. on the weekend of November 2 – 3, 2018. These students were chosen as Honor Guardians for Flight #55 an all-African American group, providing a significant opportunity for student veterans to give back to the military community.

The trip was organized by Honor Flight Austin, which carries out one flight for veterans to visit Washington, DC, per month to visit and experience the memorials built in their honor. Flight #55 is named in honor of the oldest living veteran in the country, 112-year-old Richard Arvin Overton, who is also African American.

Emelda Douglas, a nonprofit management and fundraising consultant for Fund II Foundation, served as coordinator of the trip, which was sponsored by Robert F. Smith, a business philanthropist in the Austin area, who, along with Oprah Winfrey, is one of the largest donors to the African American Museum in Washington, DC. Smith was responsible for recruiting the PVAMU students as part of a mission to develop young leaders.

The group took a car from the PVAMU campus to all leave together from the Austin airport, where they traveled with a news crew for the entire trip. They had charter buses with a police escort awaiting them in Washington, who accompanied them wherever they went. Once in Washington, the trip included visits to the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials, the Air Force, Navy, and Army monuments, the Martin Luther King Memorial and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“The itinerary was a bit of a departure from what they normally do on this trip, which is typically to visit military-related sites, but we wanted to include all of these special activities for the African American veterans,” Douglas said.

According to Douglas, a part of Smith’s sponsorship request was that PVAMU students who were also veterans had the opportunity to participate on the trip as honor guardians. Every veteran participating on the trip had mobility issues after serving in one of the aforementioned wars. Thus, each one had a “guardian” assigned to them to push their wheelchair and otherwise make sure they had an enjoyable trip.

“This trip was a great opportunity for older veterans who could be in the 70s to 90s sharing their experiences with younger veterans who in turn would have completely different experiences,” Douglas said. “None had been to the memorials before, so this jam-packed 48-hour trip was full of tears and smiles.”

By Emilia Benton