He Could Be Called A ‘Guardian Angel’
At age 70 and retired, Greg Foust defines his life perhaps a bit more by what he’s doing now than what he did in a very successful career. And what he’s doing now is serving as a Guardian and volunteer in the Honor Flight Network, a 501(c)3 organization that arranges free trips for American war veterans to visit the Washington, D.C. memorials in honor of their service to our country. Founded in 2005, the HFN now has more than 130 chapters serving veterans in 41 states and according to Greg, has transported over 220,000 veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War to our nation’s capital in recognition of their contributions.
Born in 1950, Greg himself did not get called to serve, but there was a military tradition in his family: His two grandfathers had served in World War I, the “war to end all wars,” and his dad, Everett, had been a Lieutenant JG in the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving as the skipper of a PT boat in the South Pacific. When his unit was deactivated early in 1945, Everett had returned to his home in Pendleton, Indiana and made a career for himself as an industrial engineer and eventually a high-ranking executive of General Motors.
Greg and his older sister Linda spent their childhood days on the family farm, where Greg “got to be a pretty good tractor driver,” he recalls. The only time he donned a uniform was as a drum major in the marching band at Pendleton High School and in the “All-American Marching Band” during his first year at Purdue University. He played a mean trombone and was one of the top students in his class in high school and college. At Purdue he majored in mechanical engineering, but, he observes, “My most important achievement was meeting Peggy Lewter,” then a majorette in the Purdue marching band, who became his wife shortly after they both graduated in 1972.
Greg was promptly recruited by Eastman Kodak, and he and Peggy relocated to Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. Kodak was the dominating company in photographic film at the time. “I started as a manufacturing engineer in their movie projector division,” he says. “Then I moved to their still camera division, and I became the project manufacturing engineer for Kodak’s disc camera.” He kept on moving–up and up–heading a variety of global businesses at Kodak, and when he retired after 35 years of service, he was general manager of their Specialty Materials division, which produced a silver-based antimicrobial textile treatment.
“My dad had never talked much about his days in the Navy,” Greg says, but beginning around 1972, Everett hooked up with some of his former Navy PT boat comrades at their annual reunion and had a wonderful time. After that, he and his buddies continued their reunions, and Greg and Peggy attended several of them, coming away impressed by the camaraderie and the pomp and circumstance of the occasions. At the reunion in 1997, remarkably, 12 of the 13 men on Everett’s PT boat were in attendance, some 52 years after they had parted company in the South Pacific.
“In April of 2004 the National World War II Memorial was completed in Washington, D.C.,” Greg says, “and my dad was still living, but he was ill and couldn’t attend the opening, which was a great disappointment to me.” The Honor Flight program was established the very next year and put together its first flight enabling World War II veterans to visit the memorial on the National Mall. “I didn’t learn about their activities until 2010, when I attended a fundraiser for the local Honor Flight chapter in Rochester,” Greg remembers, “and I was immediately hooked. Over the years I had become involved with many organizations outside of work–school board, zoning boards, local homeowners’ association–but once I’d retired my wife told me I needed something to get involved with, because I was driving her crazy.” This was it. “It was a wonderful way to honor my dad and Peggy’s dad, who’d been a B26 bomber pilot in Europe during World War II. I became an active volunteer and first flew as a Guardian on Father’s Day 2010.”
What exactly is a Guardian? According to the HFN, “Guardians are an important part of our flights. The number 1 priority of each trip is the safety of our veterans and all those associated with the Honor Flight.” Greg says that as a rule, Guardians selected and assigned to a veteran must be at least 16 years of age and not more than 70. Guardians must be able to lift 100 lbs. and be fit enough to push a wheelchair throughout a one- or two-day stay in Washington. Among those who satisfy these criteria, priority is given to Guardians who are medically trained, to active or retired military who have previously flown, and to eligible family members. The spouse of a veteran is not eligible unless that spouse is attending the event as a veteran. However, in some Honor Flight chapters, a veteran may select his or her own Guardian–usually a family member or close friend.
Guardians receive specific training at their chapter headquarters prior to the Honor Flight, and they are asked to pay all or part of their flight expense. Along with local volunteers in Washington, D.C., they help the veterans with check-in and serve as curbside assistants, greeters, photographers, crowd controllers, boarding helpers, bus leaders, memorial guides and/or part of the safety team. They are with the veterans throughout the Honor Flight experience. Perhaps they should be called “Guardian Angels” for their numerous and varied services to the honorees.
Honor Flights are typically run in the spring months, including Memorial Day, and in the fall months, including Veterans Day. Upon arrival, the veterans and their Guardians receive a heroes’ welcome in Washington. Literally. A volunteer group known as “Heroes Welcome” is at the appropriate airport along with active military personnel to cheer for the arriving vets and congratulate them on their service. Then the entire Honor Flight group embarks on a fast-paced, memorial-filled day touring Washington.
“They are blown away by this experience,” Greg says. “One veteran told me he felt like a rock star with all the attention he got in Washington.” That is particularly the case with many Vietnam veterans, who felt slighted or disrespected or worse when they came home in the 70s. Vietnam was not a popular war, but they fought for their country anyway. “Veterans from every era, including Vietnam, have no idea how much pent-up gratitude and appreciation for their service there is,” Greg points out. This trip helps make up for those earlier days.
Since 2010 Greg has flown on 11 Honor Flights out of the chapter in Rochester, twice as a Guardian and nine times as a bus leader. He’s served on the board of the Rochester chapter for eight years and is currently a vice president, coordinating the efforts of over 800 volunteers. “It has been and will remain my passion for many years to come,” he says. After a slight pause he adds, “Second only to my wife, of course. My whole family has gotten involved in volunteering with Honor Flights. Peggy, our grandsons Ben and Scott and granddaughter Allison work the events, our son Bradley develops the graphics for HFR and our daughter Jennifer, who’s a nurse practitioner, flies with me as a member of the safety team on Honor Flights.”
Greg and Peggy came to Englewood in 2016, “three days after I retired,” he recalls. “After 45 years of shoveling snow, we’d had enough. We found Englewood by luck. It’s the country’s best-kept secret: not much traffic, great beaches, great restaurants, wonderful weather, friendly people, proximity to museums, the symphony and the theatre.” They spend the winter months here, where Gregg plans the spring Honor Flights, and they return to Rochester during the summer, where he plans the next fall’s Honor Flights. When the snow again starts to fly in upstate New York, we’ll be blessed with a “Guardian Angel” and family in our neighborhood once more.
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