Disabled Army veteran all smiles over ‘flightless’ Honor Flight trip to nation’s capital

Army veteran Pam Kelly was beaming as she came off the Honor Flight bus Saturday afternoon at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake.

Army Sgt. Pam Kelly was excited before and after Saturday’s ‘flightless’ Honor Flight event that was held at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

“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.

Honor Flight veterans representing eras from World War II to the early 2000s take part in the ‘Welcome Home’ ceremony at American Legion Post 347 on Saturday afternoon. The group of 24 served in the Army, Air Force and Navy, and they came from The Villages, Wildwood, Lady Lake, Leesburg, Summerfield, Bushnell, Eustis, Ocala, Okahumpka and Pinellas Park.
Marine Sgt. Kevin St. Amant, of Weirsdale, and his dog, Sarge, receive salutes and a round of applause after Saturday’s ‘flightless’ Honor Flight event.

“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.

There was plenty of entertainment Saturday at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake as a large crowd waited for the return of 24 veterans from a ‘flightless’ Honor Flight event that was held at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

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.

From left: Patty Hatty (Pat Reilly, of the Village of Amelia); Book Worm (Sue Blalock, of the Village of Liberty Park); and Twister (Pat Cupitt, of the Village of Hemingway), entertain the crowd before the Honor Flight veterans arrive at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake on Saturday afternoon.
Army veteran Fred Jary, of the Village of Caroline, gets a kiss on the cheek from Miss Liberty, Cathy Haynes, of Orlando. Haynes has been meeting Honor Flight buses for eight years to give veterans a proper welcome home.

“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.

Veterans of many different eras were honored Saturday after spending the day at the Colony Cottage Recreation Center as part of a ‘flightless’ Honor Flight event.

Some of those fundraising efforts include:

People of all ages turned out Saturday to welcome home the 24 veterans who took part in the ‘flightless’ Honor Flight event.

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.

A large crowd waving American flags was waiting for Honor Flight veterans to return to American Legion Post 347 on Saturday afternoon.
Members of The Villages Cheerleaders and The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps bow their heads as John Bird, of Bugles Across America, plays ‘Taps’ on Saturday at American Legion Post 347.
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