One of South Carolina’s most prominent outreach efforts for World War II veterans may be a few weeks from ending, with organizers of Honor Flight running into serious trouble in the effort to find more vets who are ready, willing and able to travel to Washington, D.C., for a day of honors and remembrance.


“We’ve got volunteers that don’t want to call this the last Honor Flight, but the reality is that we just don’t have a lot of World War II veterans that are still able to travel,” said Chapin resident Bill Dukes, chairman of Honor Flight of South Carolina.


Dukes, also known as the owner of Columbia’s Blue Marlin restaurant, noted that the next and possibly final flight will be May 11, representing the 21st such flight taking South Carolina vets to see the World War II memorial and related monuments in the capital. Patriotic music and a variety of honors are often a part of the scene at the airports involved in the one-day trip.


Aiken County’s final participant, among actual World War II vets, may be 93-year-old Charles Lide, who served in the Army from December 1942 to February 1945, as a machinist helping build airfields in the Philippines.


“Our company maintained the equipment that built the air bases,” he said.


 

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“A lot of traveling” was part of the deal, Lide said. “I really never fired a gun, and so I guess I had it pretty easy ... and you learned to eat different things. You have to make a lot of changes. You won’t find any corn grits or fatback.”

 


The Marion native, who now lives in Aiken Estates, struggled to find a job once he got out of the service. He eventually got on board in 1953 with what was then known as the Savannah River Plant, worked as an editor and retired in 1986 as a senior engineer with the nuclear reservation’s health department.


Dukes, referring to Honor Flight, said, “We encourage family members to make a decision to go, as a guardian, to be with their loved one, and it will be an experience that absolutely they will never forget.”


“We ask for the guardian to make a $500 contribution to support Honor Flight, and that’s for the honor of going on the Honor Flight and being a caregiver for a World War II hero.”


The organization has dozens of sponsors, including such names as Verizon Wireless, Gilbert Middle School, Wal-Mart, Lexington Medical Center, Lizard’s Thicket and Carolina Honda. Details, including application information, are available at www.honorflightsc.com and 803-582-8826.


Bill Bengtson, a native of Florence, Alabama, has worked for Aiken Communications since 1996, providing pictures and stories for the Aiken Standard and The North Augusta Star.