By Al Stilley
Howard Bennis is making preparations for the flight of his lifetime Saturday with one of his grandsons.
Bennis, who lives near Greenwood in northwestern Johnson County, will be among 85 veterans who will be on the 37th chartered Indy Honor Flight from Indianapolis International Airport to Washington, D.C.
What makes the Honor Flight special for Bennis is that he will be accompanied by grandson Austin Strykowski as his official guardian during a dinner Friday night and the trip to the nation’s capitol the next day. Strykowski is a senior at Roncalli High School and is on fall break.
“I’m looking forward to it because I enjoy seeing him happy,” Strykowski said Sunday evening after returning from two ice hockey games in Hammond. “I definitely respect him. It will be a great honor for him and for all the veterans on the flight who served this country.”
Strykowski has been looking forward to this trip for several weeks. He also is playing ice hockey for the South Stars traveling team that is based at Perry Park. He began skating at 4 years and competitively since fourth grade. And he also competes in sprints on the Royals track team in the spring.
Bennis served on active duty in the U.S. Army for three years during the Vietnam conflict. He was a Spec. 5 at Fort Monmouth where he trained communications specialists. He has two daughters and three grown grandchildren.
He was employed at WTTV-Channel 4 on Bluff Road as a director and enlisted rather than being drafted. After returning to the Southside, Bennis served one year in the Army Reserves, four years with the Indiana National Guard and 20 years in the Indiana Guard Reserve.
“This (Honor Flight) will be one to remember because I will be with my grandson,” Bennis said. “And this is such an important event for veterans to be able to see the memorials in Washington and to be with other veterans.”
Bennis revealed that this is not his first Honor Flight. He was a guardian on the fourth and eighth Honor Flights with World War II veterans. And he has taken part in American Legion Honor Guards for several years at the welcome reception for veterans on the Honor Flight.
“The impact and importance of the Honor Flight has grown down through the years,” Bennis said.
He revealed that their meal upon returning from the nation’s capitol on those early flights was together in the food court at the airport.
Returning to Channel 4, he became an engineer and was there during the all-time popular shows with “Cowboy Bob,” “Janie,” and “Sammy Terry.” He was employed there until the independent station was sold and eventually closed.
Bennis eventually trained as an EMT and was with the White River Township Fire Department where he served as fire chief. He also has served on the paramedic team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with track medics for the past 20 years.
Friday, Bennis and his grandson will have a “meet and greet” dinner, and then Saturday morning fly to the nation’s capitol where they will visit memorials built to honor veterans - WWII, Vietnam, and Korea - and Arlington Cemetery to observe the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
They return that evening for a reception and patriotic event at Plainfield High School at 7:30 p.m. The patriotic parade in the gymnasium features each veteran accompanied by their guardian.
“This (Saturday) will be a day to remember,” Bennis concluded.
The Indy Honor Flight is completely donor-funded and staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers. There is no cost to veterans for the flight and accompanying events. For info and to donate, visit: indyhonorflight.org.