BALLINGER – After making sure that veterans from Runnels County could participate for the past three years, Runnels County Veterans Service Officer Sandra Van Zant was able to realize a dream – she and her husband were able to be guests on the fifth Permian Basin Honor Flight.

BALLINGER – After making sure that veterans from Runnels County could participate for the past three years, Runnels County Veterans Service Officer Sandra Van Zant was able to realize a dream – she and her husband were able to be guests on the fifth Permian Basin Honor Flight.

Sandra, who had a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy and her husband, Lewis “Junior” Van Zant, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force, were among 143 veterans who were aboard the fifth flight.

The Van Zants would go to Midland on Thursday, May 18, then would fly out Friday morning on the trip to Washington, D.C., where many patriotic citizens waived flags and welcomed them.

Every leg of the trip is meticulously planned, from the time they arrive, to when they board buses to see all of the monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Korean Memorial, the Navy Memorial, the Disabled American Veterans for Life Memorial, the Marine Corps Museum, Vietnam Memorial and the Veterans National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

“The respect that we were shown was tremendous,” Sandra said. “There are no words to say how they made us feel.”

Sandra said there were only two WWII veterans on the flight, and about a dozen Korean veterans, with the majority of the group being from the Vietnam War.

She said it was particularly moving to see how the public treated the veterans everywhere they went, particularly those from Vietnam.

“They did not shake hands and say 'thank you for your service' to them (Vietnam veterans),” she said. “They said ‘welcome home.””

“People lined up on the sidewalks clapping and shaking our hands,” Sandra said. “I must've shook 2,000 hands, it was unbelievable the respect and admiration they showed us it was very touching I was very proud.”

During the Saturday night dinner, Congressman Mike Conaway attended and spoke to the veterans.

“The Honor Flight organization does a tremendous job giving back to the men and women who sacrificed so much for our nation without asking for anything in return. Many of these veterans would not have had an opportunity to see the monuments in our nation’s capital that are dedicated to their service without Honor Flight,” Conaway said last week. “It’s a really special thing to be a part of.”

Sandra wanted to stress that she wants all veterans to go on the Honor Flight, particularly those from WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

“I will be happy to sign people up to go,” she said. “It is truly a trip of a lifetime, every veteran needs to go.”

Teresa Galloway is the coordinator for the Permian Basin Honor Flight, which is based in Midland and was started by John West, a former resident of Midland who still oversees the fund raising for the flights, each of which costs $270,000.

Galloway said. If they can raise $150,000 soon, another flight is planned for September. This trip, it cost about $1,800 per veteran. There is no charge to veterans for the trip – everything is paid for including the flight, meals and accommodations.

For more information on the Permian Basin Honor Flight, contact Sandra at the Runnels County Veterans Service Office or go to http://permianhonorflight.org/ or send donations to Permian Basin Honor Flight, P.O. Box 52890, Midland, 79710 or email Teresa Galloway at teresagalloway828@gmail.com.