Army veteran Pam Kelly was beaming as she came off the Honor Flight bus Saturday afternoon at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake.
“This was fantastic,” said the 54-year-old Kelly, who became a quadriplegic in 2002 after being injured on active duty. “I’d recommend it to every veteran, ten times over, no matter what era they served in.”
Kelly, who is well known throughout The Villages, was one of 24 veterans who participated in Saturday’s “flightless” event, which was put on by Villages Honor Flight. It marked the group’s 43rd mission and final one of 2018.
The flightless event, which was held at the Colony Recreation Center, also marked the biggest of its kind so far. It was designed to replicate the day a normal Honor Flight encompasses with a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments – the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial – that are dedicated to veterans of all eras.
Thanks to a lot of attention to detail – right down to mock plane tickets with fight numbers – technology, green screens and some serious ingenuity, Kelly and her fellow veterans felt like they actually made the journey to our nation’s capital.
“It was more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said, adding that it ranks right below serving her country for 17 years. “This was one of those ones that I’d definitely recommend and I feel honored to be a part of it. Having the camaraderie with all the veterans, the caregivers and the escorts, it was just awesome.”
Marguerite Desbrow, Kelly’s guardian on the trip, said the experience proved to be a fantastic day.
“The weather was perfect, everything went right on time and the meal was perfect,” she said. “You can’t ask for anything better, plus I’ve got Pam,” she added with a smile.
Kelly, who currently lives in Clearwater, will be moving to The Villages soon, thanks to a continued effort by Villagers for Veterans to build her a “smart house” on the Historic Side of the community.
She said the day she becomes a resident of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown can’t get here soon enough.
“Everybody here is just wonderful,” she said. “Everybody I meet is just so pleasant. And the community, I just can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Villagers for Veterans, led by founder and CEO Marie Bogdonoff, already has purchased a lot for Kelly’s new home. And the group has worked extremely hard to raise money through a variety of fundraisers to pay for the effort.
Some of those fundraising efforts include:
- A George Thorogood benefit concert at The Sharon last month where Kelly got to go backstage and meet the legendary performer.
- A fundraising festival/5K at The Villages Polo Fields in October.
- Money donated to Villagers for Veterans from The Villages Pops Chorus.
- A July pancake breakfast sponsored by the Pine Hills Social Club.
- A “Bob Hope and Friends USO” show at Savannah Center in July that brought Kelly to tears as she received a loud – and long – standing ovation.
- The Fourth Annual Orchid Gala at Savannah Center, a sold-out event that gave the group enough money to purchase the lot for Kelly’s home.
As for Kelly, she already has plans once she accepts the keys to her new home.
“The first thing I’m going to do is open up my house and invite anybody and everybody that’s willing to come in,” she said. “And the second thing is to join the American Legion,” she added with a smile, as a Post 347 member patted her on the shoulder.