Honor Flight Michigan founder David Cameron devoted the last two years of his life to taking World War II veterans on free trips to see their national memorial in Washington, D.C.
Cameron became a pioneer in the National Honor Flight Network after hearing the story of a pilot being liberated from a German prisoner of war camp by Gen. George S. Patton.
Cameron and his wife, Carole, were watching a CBS news report called "In their honor".
The West Bloomfield, Michigan couple was struck by one of the veterans, Lt. Joseph Collins, recalling his last day in Stalag Luft 3 in what is now Zagen, Poland. "I was looking into the city and I could see the German swastika up there. It started coming down and our flag went up there," the former POW said. "And Patton came in - he came right in on his jeep. That was something." The thought of the Stars and Stripes replacing swastikas resonated with the patriotic Camerons. Dave and his wife Carole said, "We could do something like that here in Royal Oak." Cameron was a longtime Royal Oak businessman who used his contacts to create a volunteer board to raise the money to take veterans on the trips. That is how "Honor Flight Michigan, Inc." was born.
Members of American Legion Post 253, Royal Oak, were among the earliest supporters. Past Cmdr. Bud Wease said some of the post's WWII veterans wept when they heard about the goal. Many veterans do not have the funds to make the emotional journey or they are not in good enough health to travel alone.
The memorial did not open to the public until 2004 when the youngest of WWII vets were pushing 80. Today, only 3 million of the 16 million who served are still alive and they are dying at a rate of nearly 1500 per day. Time is running out to pay them one last tribute and treat them like heroes again if only for a day.
DAVE THE PIONEER
David Cameron's respect for the sacrifices made by World War II veteran knew no bounds. Not only did he lead a volunteer board to raise money to take them on free trips to see their national memorial in Washington, D.C., he did everything he could to make the experience pleasurable and memorable.
"They literally saved the world," Cameron always said of WWII veterans. Cameron helped lay the groundwork that made it easier for other states to start up their own groups, according to Earl Morse of Ohio, who launched the Honor Flight Network. Cameron formed the second group in the United States to take regular trips to the memorial. He also set up one of the most ambitious schedules of the 31 states now offering honor flights. Honor Flight Michigan took 414 vets on monthly trips from April through November 2007.
"Because of Dave's success, other people saw this can be done anywhere," Morse said. "To this day we are in awe of him. In an area that is one of the most economically depressed in the country, Dave overcame the financial challenges to make these trips happen."
Morse also said he was impressed at how Cameron made a special effort to recruit minority veterans who hadn't heard yet about the effort. "Word about that got to Colin Powell," Morse said of the former U.S. secretary of state and retired Army general who regularly greets veterans at the memorial along with former U.S. Senator Bob Dole. "Dave opened the door to that."
Mr. Dole called Cameron's family after the HFM founder died June 8 from stroke complications at the age of 69. He talked to Carole Cameron, who urged her husband to start the group, and their son, Michael.
"He said it was because of my dad's persistence that he started greeting veterans at the memorial and now he makes a point to be in Washington on Saturdays when the groups from Michigan and other states go," Michael Cameron said. Mr. Dole led the fund-raising campaign to build the grand tribute to the sacrifices and service of everyone involved in WWII from the farmers to Rosie the Riveter to the lives put on the line in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters.
Cameron also convinced officials at Arlington National Cemetery to set aside designated trams for Honor Flight veterans going to the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Morse credits Cameron with helping make the dreams of thousands of WWII veterans come true. "Dave Cameron was a true patriot," Morse said. "He selflessly committed himself to our nations most senior heroes. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude; however, Dave would always say that the honor and privilege was all his. We were all privileged to have known him."
Dave Camerons' work is now being carried on by the dedicated Board of Directors for Honor Flight Michigan, who he hand-picked to help him full fill his desire that ever Michigan World War II veteran could see their memorial in Washington DC free of charge.