U.S. Park Police officials have agreed to resume escorts for Honor Flight events around the nation’s capital, continuing a tradition that had been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The news came just one day before the group’s celebration on the National Mall of the 250,000th veteran transported through the program. Since 2005, officials have helped veterans from across the country visit Washington, D.C. for an opportunity to tour the war memorials and national landmarks there.
In many cases, the veterans are elderly and in poor health, and are able to make the trip only because of the special medical and financial assistance provided by the group.
In the past, the U.S. Park Police provided escorts to tour buses filled with veterans visiting areas of the National Mall with limited parking, such as the World War II memorial and Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Honor Flight officials reimbursed the agency for the costs of the escorts.
Honor Flight activities were largely shuttered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but resumed last fall. However, Park Police officials in recent months have told organizers they could no longer assist with the events because of bureaucratic issues with the Department of Interior.
On Monday, officials said those problems have been resolved. Escorts will resume starting June 1.
In a joint statement, officials from the Park Police, the National Mall and Memorial Parks agency and Honor Flight said they have met in recent weeks “to discuss our shared commitment to continuing to work together and the best way to safely support hosted visits while also ensuring USPP can meet its primary law enforcement and public safety mission.”
Federal officials said that prior to the pandemic, providing escorts had become “increasingly difficult” because of the large number of events hosted by the group.
“Historically, USPP has also escorted groups to and from all three area airports using emergency lights and sirens to expedite movement through congested traffic, a practice that is now recognized to be inappropriate in non-emergency situations and inconsistent with modern law enforcement best practices,” the joint statement said.
Under a new arrangement, park rangers and Park Police officers will greet veterans at a chosen memorial, help with parking and visitor entry there, and provide ranger-led programs about the site.
In some cases, the federal agencies will also provide an escort from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery.
At its peak, the group was running up to 300 flights a year into the capital from sites across the country.
In a separate statement, Honor Flight Network CEO Meredith Rosenbeck said organizers are “grateful for the renewed commitment of support from the National Parks Service and USPP to ensure the safety of our veterans during this visit of a lifetime.”
Tuesdays’ event marking the 250,000th visitor will take place at the World War II Memorial and is scheduled to feature numerous dignitaries, including former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (serving as chairwoman of the celebration); Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Donald Remy; House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif; and Senate Veterans’ Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.