An Honor Flight to Remember

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Toyota Indiana Gives 86 Local Veterans a Flight to Remember

In April 2023, Toyota Indiana partnered with Honor Flight of Southern Indiana (HFSI) to fly 86 local veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials honoring their service to the nation.

The veterans’ flight left early in the morning and returned around 9:45 p.m. In the capital city, their jam-packed itinerary included tours of war memorials, a bus trip around the National Mall and a visit to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the changing of the guard.

In addition to serving as flight sponsor, over 75 Toyota Indiana team members, along with family and friends, volunteered to support the many events leading up to flight day. From the phone blitz in February where the selected veterans were notified, to the welcome home parade, team members contributed 137 volunteer services for HFSI.

Jenny Bartley, group manager for the Assembly West Plant, was one of three team members fortunate to join the flight as guardians for their family members. Bartley accompanied her father, Mike Wood, who served as an aviator for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.

U.S. Navy veteran Mike Wood, who flew supplies to aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War, chose his daughter, Toyota Indiana team member Jenny Bartley, to serve as his Honor Flight guardian. 

For Wood, the trip brought a mix of emotions – from the sorrow of finding the names of the fallen individuals he knew on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the joy of reconnecting with old classmates and other familiar faces on the flight. Sharing the experience with Bartley made it even more meaningful.

“It was great to spend the day with my daughter. She’s done exceptionally well in her career, and I’m very proud of her,” Wood said.

On the return flight, volunteers delighted Wood and his fellow veterans with a surprise mail call. “A mail call is when troops gather and call out the names of anyone who has gotten a letter,” Wood explained. “On the way home, they did a call and handed out letters written by family members. Many were from grade school kids who didn’t even know us but had colored a picture. That was heartwarming.”

Mike Wood receives a letter during a surprise “mail call” on the return flight home to Indiana.

Bartley was blown away by the broader community’s involvement in the flight, from the schoolchildren who sent cards to the sea of local residents who showed up for the welcome home parade. “I had no idea of the impact we were making on so many lives. It was a very proud moment for me, both as the daughter of a veteran and a Toyota employee,” she said.

The flight was HFSI’s 14th and the third to be sponsored by Toyota Indiana. Volunteer engagement was led by Candy Moser, head of Toyota Indiana’s Toyota Veteran Association business partnering group. Toyota Indiana Honor Flight champion Tom Stoll, general manager of PC and Conveyance, personally welcomed each veteran home at the Evansville Regional Airport.

At the Evansville Regional Airport, returning veterans were greeted with a carnation from retired team member and Gold Star mother Sandy Terwiske. A Gold Star mother is one who has lost a child in service to the nation.

Jerry Blake, president of HFSI, noted that deep involvement from the community is what makes the Honor Flight experience possible. “Toyota Indiana has been a major supporter of HFSI, and we are truly blessed to have their support. Not only have we received great monetary support, but many of the Toyota Indiana team members have become outstanding volunteers for HFSI. Toyota Indiana has been instrumental in the success of the HFSI mission and the tri-state community,” Blake said.

For the 86 veterans, the honors didn’t end on flight day. Wood and his comrades were invited to a June reunion breakfast where they were presented with a commemorative photo book to help them remember special moments from the day.

Reflecting on his Honor Flight experience, Wood said, “It made me thankful we have a great nation, which is because many people have served and some even made the ultimate sacrifice. I would also give all of the volunteers an A+ for their wonderful efforts.”

Bartley added, “It was wonderful to spend the time with my dad. It was a very long day, but worth it. The Honor Flight is something I want to help Toyota Indiana carry forward into the future, to make sure we’re bringing this type of opportunity to the community for a long time to come.”

Veteran Support in Other U.S. Regions

Toyota Indiana is one of many U.S. locations that supports local honor flights in their region. In 2022, Toyota Kentucky selected longtime partner Honor Flight Kentucky as the beneficiary of its Signature Walk, which raised approximately $94,000 to support free honor flights for veterans. Toyota Texas-based employees are planning to support a July 2023 Honor Flight through the Toyota Veterans business partnering group.