(Senior Advocate Volunteer Award Winner
Eddie Mannis is President of Prestige Cleaners. He believes that successful companies should give back to the communities in which they have been successful. Eddie supports many community organizations and was selected the 2008 Corporate Philanthropist of the Year by the Smoky Mountain Chapter of Professional Fundraisers for his work in the community. But no community program is more important to him than the one he established to honor East Tennessee’s senior World War II veterans.
HonorAir Knoxville was established by Eddie in 2007.
It is an organization dedicated to honoring the World War II veterans of East Tennessee and the sacrifices they made to ensure our country’s freedoms by flying them free of charge to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial built in their honor. Eddie learned about HonorAir from a friend in North Carolina who started the national HonorAir program. He decided to initiate the program in Knoxville to honor his father who was a veteran of the Korean War and his uncle, a World War II veteran.
The HonorAir program has made an incredible difference in the lives of the veterans and volunteers who participate in the program and an impact on the Knoxville community itself. Countless community groups, businesses and individuals have volunteered in some capacity for the program or made financial contributions. In fact, when the April 2010 flight returned to Knoxville over 500 people were there to welcome the heroes home. According to Dr. Joe Johnson, University of Tennessee President Emeritus, “I am proud to live in a community that cares deeply about its veterans and the HonorAir program does just that.”
On October 13, 2007 HonorAir Knoxville took its first flight. Since that time the organization has taken 7 flights and more than 700 veterans to D.C. and Eddie is aboard each flight. All World War II veterans regardless of physical limitations are eligible to participate. The one-day trip provided at no cost to the veterans includes:
- roundtrip airfare via a chartered US Airways plane;
- meals and snacks;
- a chartered bus tour of the World War II Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Marine, Navy, Air Force, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials; and
- commemorative items including a hat, book and DVD with highlights of the trip.
The response to the flights has been so great that an 8th flight is scheduled for October of this year to take another 127 veterans on this special trip. In fact, Eddie is committed to sponsoring as many flights as needed to reach all World War II veterans in the East Tennessee area and is considering the program to honor Korean War veterans.
The planning and logistics involved for a single HonorAir flight, each of which costs about $60,000, rival a military operation. Detailed coordination is necessary with the Knoxville Airport Authority, the Transportation Security Administration, US Airways, the National Park Service, Virginia and District of Columbia police, medical personnel and other agencies. The day is planned to the finest detail from the military Honor Guard cordon as the veterans approach the gate at the airport in Knoxville, to the send off speeches from Tennessee’s senators, Congressman Duncan and the mayors to the fire truck “water cannon” salute over the aircraft to the welcome back party when the flight returns.
Eddie not only spearheaded the organization, operation and fundraising effort for this program, his company has also donated close to $100,000 to date and will continue to contribute to ensure the fund raising goals are met. In addition, Prestige provides and bears the cost of all the administrative support to the program to ensure that every dollar donated is applied directly to the cost of the flights.
Feedback from the veterans who have taken the trip best expresses the incredible emotion the seniors experience:
“Words can never express how much we appreciated the fantastic Washington trip. I only hope you could tell by the expression on our faces even when we could hardly speak-overcome by joy and thoughts of our buddies who never made it home.” - Charles Brakebill, U.S. Army
“In my 82 years of living, I’ve been fortunate to have had many enjoyable experiences…but I’ve had no experience more inspiring than my Honor flight to Washington D.C. We were thrilled to be met both in Knoxville and Washington D.C. by crowds of cheering folks, old and young who assured us that sacrifices my generation made 60 years ago were remembered and deeply appreciated.” - Richard Newby, U.S. Navy
“When I came home from the war, I had to hitchhike home to Claiborne County, so this homecoming reception really meant so much.” - John Edds
“I have had three experiences in my life that have made a lasting impression on me. Number one is the day I married my wife… number two is the day I returned home from combat duty on August 17, 1945 and number three was the trip to Washington D.C.” - Norman Kratschmer, U.S. Army Air Corps Pilot
Eddie Mannis is very deserving of the Covenant Platinum Award Senior Advocate Volunteer Award as he has brought great joy to hundreds of senior citizens, letting them know the contributions they made to their country have not been forgotten.