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Center Snapshot: Fran Demarco
Fran Demarco. Image above: Fran Demarco is a volunteer, which made it logical for her to get involved in Honor Flight, an organization which gets World War II veterans to Washington. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Fran Demarco volunteers.

She has done things for Red Cross Disaster Relief, and she has worked with the USO for years. Also, she’s a Vietnam-era veteran, and the daughter of a veteran.

So it was logical that she pay attention, when she saw an advertisement for something called Honor Flight at the Langley Credit Union in the early summer. Then contribute in memory of his father.

And then …

"I started thinking," said Demarco, an information technology program manager with NASA Langley's Office of the Chief Information Officer. "They’re asking for money, maybe they need volunteers."

The Honor Flight website said, indeed, the organization was looking for help. That’s why she was on one of four bus-loads of World War II veterans heading for Washington two weekends ago.

Honor Flight is a five-year-old organization started in Ohio to get World War II veterans together and take them to see memorials to what they accomplished all those years ago. Now that there’s a World War II Memorial in Washington, the quest looms larger.

Each veteran gets a "guardian" for the day, and Demarco served as guardian for 82-year-old Jim Day, a sailor from Virginia Beach who did his World War II time in the Pacific, ferrying gasoline from the Phillippines at first, and then from island to island as the U.S. invasion moved along.

Fran DeMarco.

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Fran Demarco and Jim Day, a Navy veteran of World War II alongside the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington. Credit: NASA

Day was among 92 veterans on that Saturday trip and, like most, it was the first time he had seen the World War II Memorial, which is only five years old.

"My father was an Army medic in World War II and didn’t live long enough to see the memorial," Demarco said. "I think it’s something he would have liked to have seen."

To prepare, she went back to her World War II history.

"It's been a long time since I was in high school," Demarco said. "I wanted to be able to have a conversation with my veteran."

As it developed, that was probably the last thing she needed to be concerned about. For all of the attractions, the visit to the World War II Memorial, to the Marine Museum, to the Iwo Jima memorial, to the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, "it was a time for them to be able to talk with other people who had gone through the same experiences," Demarco said.

"They were with people their own age, that same generation. It was an opportunity to reminisce with someone who was there with you, in the same time frame, for the same purpose. It was an opportunity to be with folks who understood what they had gone through."

At each stop, the veterans – who were easily identifiable by their green Honor Flight jackets; their guardians wore gold jackets – were stopped and applauded by onlookers who just seemed to appreciate who they were and what they had done.

"I was thrilled just watching them," Demarco said. "To see them together was impressive. I just stood back. They lined up for a picture, and people still came up and shook their hands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial a number of times and I’ve never seen that."

At the Marine Museum, they were saluted by Junior ROTC members.

Her job was making certain Day was on the bus after each stop, and to work with others to make certain everybody stayed healthy. The veterans ranged in age from 82 to 93. The 92 from Hampton Roads were part of the 16 million American World War II veterans, and the Honor Flight organizers understand that society is losing 1,100 of these people every day.

Honor Flight wants to make sure those left are given the respect they are due. The veterans’ trips are paid for through donations to Honor Flight. The guardians pay their own way.

Each person’s trip cost about $300, which included specially equipped busses and emergency medical technicians available. Off-duty Air Force personnel from Langley organized the troop movement and made sure that schedules were kept.

At day's end, as the veterans boarded busses for the trip back to Hampton Roads, there remained one more element of the experience.

"It was 'mail call,' " Demarco said. "Every veteran had an envelope of cards, letters and pictures that kids had drawn.

"They were shocked, they really were. I was thrilled for them."

It was a long day. Fran Demarco began at 4:30 a.m., and the return trip was well into the evening. She looks forward to a November 13 reunion of those who made the journey in Hampton, where a DVD of memories will be available.

At its end, she had learned a few things about Jim Day, learned a lot about World War II and had gotten a bit closer to her dad, who has been gone 12 years now.

She had given to Honor Flight at the credit union in memory of her father, Frank Haig. And she understood him a little more after the trip. The next one comes in April, and you know she’ll be there.

It's because Fran Demarco volunteers.

You can contribute to Honor Flight through this website:

or through the Combined Federal Campaign.