Four brothers aboard Honor Flight

Brothers Kirk, George, Buddy and E.B. Hendricks served during World War II and the Korean War and will all take part in the Honor Flight headed for Washington, D.C., on Saturday morning.

Decades ago when duty called, all four of the Hendricks brothers answered.

Buddy and E.B. served during World War II. George and Kirk - the youngsters of the family - threw in during Korea. And Saturday morning, all four will be called on again. This time, though, there will be a warming crowd with them.

The seventh and possibly last Honor Flight of Lowcountry veterans to the military memorials in Washington, D.C., will depart Charleston around daybreak. About 85 aged soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will be on board.

While organizers say they would like to sponsor more of the flights in the future, the truth is that the passage of time is catching up with most of the World War II veterans whom the Honor Flight network was created to serve. Only about one-third of those going served doing World War II; the rest during Korea.

"The World War Two vets are passing away at a record rate," said Bob Crawford, director of Honor Flight Lowcountry. "We hope to be able to take another flight next year, but we're not absolutely sure."

That doesn't mean the mission to date hasn't been effective. More than 650 veterans of World War II have made the trip to Washington on the six previous flights to see the National World War II Memorial and other monuments around the city.

For the Hendricks brothers, all of whom still live in the Charleston area, their story is not unique among the thousands of South Carolinians who served in the military during the middle part of the 20th century. The four grew up on Folly Beach playing football by the surf until their lives were interrupted by Pearl Harbor.

Buddy Hendricks, now 88, joined the Navy and would serve on a ship patrolling for German submarines in the Caribbean. E.B. Hendricks, 90, also joined the Navy and served on a convoy run to England, later taking part in the invasion of the Philippines.

Years later, George Hendricks, 85, would join the Air Force and serve during Korea. Kirk, the youngest at 83, joined the Air Force as well.

"Jobs were hard to come by when I got out of high school," George recalled of the call to war. Honor Flight officials think this is the first time that so many brothers have taken part at once. The four-way trip came about at the prompting of George's wife, Francis, who knew about the Honor Flight program and thought it would be good for all four to go as an extension of the weekly Sunday breakfasts the brothers enjoy at the American Legion Post on James Island.

The Honor Flight concept dates to May 2005 when six small planes left Springfield, Ohio, carrying 12 World War II veterans to the memorial in Washington. The idea soon went national, with chapters opening up around the country.

For Saturday's flight, the process for each trip has been finely tuned. While the veterans fly for free, civilian "guardians" donated $500 each to be a part of the trip. Their roles are to make sure the needs of each veteran are taken care of from gate to ground. A team of doctors and nurses also goes along in case of emergency.

The charter is expected to land at Reagan National Airport about 8:20 a.m. where music and pre-arranged greeters will meet them on arrival. Buses will then take the attendees to stops around the city.

At the World War II Memorial, dignitaries such has former Sen. Bob Dole or Secretary of State Colin Powell have been known to show up. A box lunch is also provided. Other stops include the Franklin Roosevelt, Korea, Vietnam and Iwo Jima monuments. The return touchdown at the Charleston International Airport should be around 7 p.m. Well-wishers are encouraged to attend.

The cost of the flight is not cheap. The airplane charter runs between $45,000 and $50,000, Crawford said. The buses run about $8,500. But Crawford said the money and fundraising headaches are secondary to the achievement of getting the vets to Washington.

"It's just the most rewarding experience you can do," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.