Elaine Hess, member and CE Ministry Coordinator at Southview Grace Brethren Church in Ashland, Ohio (Mark Abel, senior pastor), has been taking U.S. military veterans to visit the Washington D.C. war memorials for several years through Honor Bus.
Elaine taught U.S. History to eighth grade students for 34 years prior to retiring. As part of her curriculum, she led trips to D.C. often with her classes, totaling over 125 in her lifetime. When she retired, she was contacted by char- ter bus owner, Don Way, about helping organize similar trips for veterans in the Ashland area. She eagerly jumped on board as this was a way to combine her love of history and interest in D.C. with her heart for veterans!
With the help and support of several local businesses, Honor Bus is able to provide veterans a trip to D.C. at no cost. Students and family members volunteer to serve as guardians to assist the veterans. An organization in Ashland, The Coalition, fundraises to help cover the cost of the trip. She is grateful for all their support, and especially their partnership with the local charter bus company that transports them. She requests prayer for the business during the pandemic, because without their services, Honor Bus wouldn’t be able to happen.
While on the bus, the veterans participate in a “Mail Call” where they receive letters written by students, family members, and church attenders thanking them for their service. The attendees are gifted an Honor Bus jacket, a donation from a sponsor. At the memorials, the veterans are honored with a pinning ceremony. After the event, Southview Grace Brethren Church hosts a dinner for the veterans and their families to share stories, photos, and thank them for their service.
Honor Bus serves five counties: Richland, Holmes, Wayne, Ashland, and Huron and has taken 10 trips to the Capitol over the past eight years. These trips are similar to Honor Flight where veterans can attend for free and visit the various memorials. However, instead of being a one-day trip, Honor Bus is an entire weekend.
In November 2020, Elaine led a trip of 14 veterans, totaling 30 people with the volunteer guardians. The trip started early on a Friday morning and made the drive to D.C. with a stop at the Flight 93 Memorial on the way. Once in D.C, they checked into their hotel, ate dinner, and toured a few of the memorials. Elaine likes to visit the memorials in both the day and night for a different experience.
On Saturday, the group visited all of the war memorials, along with the several scenic places along the National Mall and a museum tour. After dinner, the veterans had the option of visiting a few more memorials for a night tour. Normally, the Honor Bus tour visits Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, Arlington was closed to their group this year due to COVID-19. Elaine was praying for a special opportunity to replace that experience when she saw a couple of park rangers on the White House grounds. She approached them and explained their situation. One of the rangers, who said he frequently volunteers with Honor Flight, made arrangements for their group to participate in the Fall Garden Tour on the White House Lawn.
Elaine loves how this ministry is able to touch lives of people who might not otherwise visit their church. Her continued prayer is to be able to continue to show the love of Jesus to veterans in their community. Elaine said, “Honor Bus is a unique way to let veterans in Ashland know we care.”
This story originally appeared in the GraceConnect eNews and GraceConnect magazine.