Capt. Skip Bradeen has enjoyed plenty of memorable excursions out on the water. Recently, the charter boat captain took a day away from the ocean and the Keys for a trip with fellow veterans to the nation’s capital.
Bradeen, Islamorada resident who runs Blue Chip Too Charters, was one of 43 Vietnam veterans picked to go on the Honor Flight of South Florida on Sept. 21. Transporting America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., Honor Flight South Florida assists veterans who are willing and able to get on a plane or bus and visit memorials that honor the ultimate sacrifice. Joining the Vietnam vets were 17 Korean War veterans and eight who fought in World War II.
“It was a day of full activity,” Bradeen told the Weekly in an interview.
Arriving at Fort Lauderdale Airport around 4 a.m., Bradeen and veterans from South Florida gathered for breakfast before boarding Spirit Airlines flight 1941 to Baltimore/Washington International Airport at 5:45 a.m.
Landing just after 8 a.m., Bradeen and vets hopped on buses en route to Washington, D.C. There, they spent the day visiting the Iwo Jima Memorial, the tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II and Korean War memorials and the Vietnam Wall. Bradeen said the Korean War Memorial stuck with him the most.
“There were about a dozen GIs in a field with white capes on and boots and all,” he said. “They were depicting a winter scene. Whoever did the expressions on their faces was unbelievable. Their eyes were open and looking at you. That, to me, was the most impressive of all the things I saw.”
A guardian accompanied each vet on an Honor Flight trip. Guardians are essential to the success of every adventure as they support and ensure veterans enjoy their time. Bradeen brought his brother, Ralph, from New York, to serve as his guardian.
“It was so heartfelt that he flew down from New York to be part of this special ceremony,” he said.
Following a day of sightseeing, veterans flew back to Fort Lauderdale. And just when they thought a spectacular day was going to conclude, more than 1,500 people were waiting for their arrival back to South Florida.
“People were there waving flags and little kids making signs that said ‘We Love You’ and ‘Thank You For Your Service’ and ‘God Bless America.’ They were also playing patriotic songs,” he said. “That was the most spectacular thing that happened to me.”
The final flight for 2019 takes place Oct. 19 before ramping up for another round of trips in 2020. Bradeen says there’s a list of about 140 vets waiting to board the Honor Flight. Veterans in the Keys who are interested in applying can visit honorflightsouthflorida.org, click on the veterans tab and choose the veteran online application. Bradeen said he’ll help any veteran who’s looking to apply.
“The trip and seeing the people welcome you back redoes your faith in America,” he said. “It shows we’re not forgotten, especially us Vietnam vets. When we got back from Vietnam, America didn’t accept us. They treated us like it was our fault. This trip is a way of showing appreciation. It’s a tremendous program.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- Honor Flight has 130 hubs in 41 states.
- In Florida, there are nine Honor Flight hubs, with one in South Florida that serves Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
- Over 225,000 vets have flown to Washington, D.C., via Honor Flight.
- Honor Flight South Florida is a 100 percent all-volunteer, nonprofit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans.