Honor Flights provide learning experiences for local volunteer

George Dominy likes learning one-on-one from veterans, hearing their stories and seeing the healing that can take place when they visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

The retired Lebanon Police officer last month served as a team leader on his third Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. His group included three veterans from Sweet Home, Eugene Amundson, who served in the Army during the Korean War; World War II Navy veteran Bud Garrett; and Ralph Morse, a Marine Corps veteran from World War II.

County Commissioner Will Tucker served as a guardian on the Oct. 6-8 trip.

To honor their service and sacrifice, South Willamette Valley Honor Flight sends veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to Washington, D.C., free of charge to visit war memorials.

It hosts numerous fund-raising events each year to help cover the costs for veterans. The nonprofit organization also accepts tax-deductible donations.

Dominy was a longtime local police officer after having served in the Marines himself.

After having been a cadet with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office while in high school, Dominy was an MP in the Marines, spending most of his time stationed in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

He started work as a dispatcher and reserve officer in Myrtle Point before going to work in Brookings.

He worked at Sweet Home Police Department for 20 years and Lebanon Police Department for three, retiring in 2012. Since then, he has continued to teach at the Police Academy, teaching 25 different topics, primarily in basic police, basic telecommunication and basic corrections.

Dominy and his sons David, the school resource officer for Lebanon Police Department, and Cliff, who perform as known as Praise in 3D, are well-known in the area for their singing at many patriotic events.

On Honor Flights, guardians are assigned to individual veterans.

Volunteers also serve as team leaders and flight leaders. Team leaders are responsible for a group of veterans and their guardians, ensuring they’re on the planes, helping with lodging and resolving issues.

George Dominy’s group had six team leaders and two flight leaders, he said. He had seven veterans in his team.

“When we first arrive there, we get to the motel, get the veterans and guardians set up in their rooms,” Dominy said.

They go from there to dinner, with a short ceremony and a briefing on the following day’s activities.

This trip, they enjoyed swing dancing.

The following day, the group visited the Vietnam Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean Memorial, the Navy Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. The Marine Memorial was shut down this trip.

The group also visited Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard and took a tour of the Capitol building.

“I think the Vietnam Memorial has the most impact with the people we’ve seen,” Dominy said. He believes that’s the result of the poor way they were treated when they returned from the war. They see the monument, and they see some support and appreciation. “You see a lot of healing.”

The impact is stronger “because of the emotional drive behind it,” he said.

The highlight for Dominy is the Korean Memorial, he said. His father served during the Korean War.

The World War II Memorial is striking as well.

It stands for so much unity in a war where so much happened and soldiers faced so much adversity just to survive, he said.

Dominy enjoys listening to the veterans the most. Honor Flight originally served World War II veterans before being opened up to Korean and Vietnam veterans.

Thinking of the Vietnam veterans, “some of the stories they have, it’s amazing some of the stuff they went through, the garbage they went through when they returned,” Dominy said.

On the way out, the veterans talk about their families and mostly about the present, Dominy said.

They’re reluctant to discuss much about their experiences during the wars. Once they visit the memorials, they tend to open up more.

Dominy joined the program in 2014.

“Initially, it was for my dad,” he said. “He passed away and never got the chance to go.”

His father was a Korean War veteran.

Dominy said his interest in the Honor Flights started when Praise in 3D was invited to perform the national anthem at an Honor Flight presentation at the River Center in Lebanon.

They stayed afterward for the presentation, Dominy said, and then he spent time afterward talking to Mike Pungercar, who ran the program.

Six months later, when a guardian had to drop out at the last minute, Pungercar called Dominy and asked if he would take the spot on the trip.

It costs guardians, team leaders and flight leaders $900 to make the trip, Dominy said. He couldn’t come up with $900 so quickly, so David Dominy set up a Go Fund Me page, which quickly raised the cash for the trip.

His first flight was with a World War II veteran pilot from Eugene, Dominy said.

It’s one-on-one history, different from reading a book, he said. For the veterans, “finally, there’s someone here to listen.”

His second trip was with two Vietnam veterans from Eugene, and their experiences were substantially different – with their jobs and with the culture.

The Vietnam veterans were more guarded about discussing the war than the World War II veterans, he said, but they opened up as well, realizing Dominy was someone who was willing to listen rather than chastise them.

It’s about respect, he said. “And an opportunity to talk to them.”

For more information about Honor Flight or to donate, visit swvhonorflight.org.


Photo courtesy of George Dominy
GEORGE DOMINY accompanies World War II Marine
Corps veteran Ralph Morse on a recent Honor
Flight trip.