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Retired Army Col. Danny McKnight and his wife Linda, of Rockledge, Fla., meet the veterans they will be traveling with to Washington, D.C., at the Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne, Fla., on March 9, 2014. Navy veterans Harold "Harry Dee" Ashdown and Armand Zarrella will join 23 other veterans and their guardians on the Space Coast Honor Flight, for which McKnight and his wife are picking up the $25,000 bill. / Craig Rubadoux, Florida Today

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Hubert "Huey" Hughes was hesitant about going on an Honor Flight trip because he felt other World War II veterans deserved it more.

Then a volunteer with Space Coast Honor Flight encouraged him to sign up with the group, which takes aging veterans to Washington, D.C, to visit the war memorials.

"I was kind of coaxed," said Hughes, an 88-year-old Navy veteran from Melbourne. "I filled out the application and now I'm all excited about it."

Retired Army Col. Danny McKnight and his wife Linda, believe Hughes and other World War II and Korean War veterans should have a chance to visit the monuments built in their honor.

The McKnights feel so strongly about it that they are sponsoring the March 22 trip, one of seven this year that will take veterans on the all-expenses paid trips.

The couple had the opportunity to see off one group of veterans who made the trip in September. Later, they went to a fundraiser held for Honor Flight. They decided they wanted to do more.

"We were really, really in awe of what we saw," McKnight said. "She said, 'You know we could sponsor one of these and honor our fathers.'"

They told Space Coast Honor Flight president, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bill Welser, that they wanted to pay the entire $25,000 cost of a trip.

"It was a good thing he was sitting down," Linda McKnight said.

Welser said it was only the second time that someone offered to pay for an entire trip.

"We're pretty excited about it," he said.

Danny McKnight, who grew up in Rockledge, Fla., retired from the Army in 2002. He is known for commanding an Army Ranger unit on a mission into Mogadishu, Somalia, that was depicted in the movie, Black Hawk Down. He now travels the country as a motivational speaker.

He and his wife said they like to help different causes and the Honor Flight sponsorship was their big one this year. They said it is a tribute to their late fathers, who both served in the military.

"I'm just thrilled that we have the means that we can sponsor the flight," McKnight said.

The flight will take 25 veterans - 19 from World War II and six from the Korean War. They will be accompanied by 25 guardians.

Space Coast Honor Flight raises money from individuals and corporations to pay for the trips. The veterans pay nothing, while the guardians pay their own expenses, typically $400 per trip.

Since it started in 2010, Space Coast Honor Flight has taken 475 veterans to Washington, D.C.

John Grimes, a Vietnam veteran, has volunteered as a guardian on the flights several times in recent years. He is serving as guardian for Korean War veteran LaRue Hansen, 83, of Merritt Island, Fla.

"These guys have done so much for the country," Grimes said. "These guys are the ones that blazed the trail."

McKnight's brother, Bill; daughter, Pam; son-in-law, Jay Cirino and grandson, Dylan Pasik, as well as friends will serve as guardians on the flight.

The McKnights are excited about the trip and want to see the veterans enjoy it.

"I want to watch their reaction to what they built," McKnight said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Retired colonel, wife foot $25,000 Honor Flight bill

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