GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Old Glory Honor Flight has canceled its upcoming Return to Korea trip as health agencies warn against travel to South Korea amid the coronavirus outbreak.
South Korea has the largest number of coronavirus cases outside of China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea.
Older adults and people with medical conditions are considered at increased risk if contracting the respiratory virus.
"There is just too much at stake to risk the health and wellbeing of the very veterans we are trying to honor. At this point, we are not able to commit to a rescheduled trip given so much is unknown," reads a statement from Old Glory Honor Flight. "We cannot know how long the Coronavirus risk will last, and we have been made aware that the South Korean government may not be able to accommodate us for a future trip as their Korea Revisit program and its associated funding program is coming to an end this year."
Old Glory Honor Flight had planned to take 51 Korean War veterans to South Korea later this year. The trip was modeled after the Return to Vietnam Honor Flight. Action 2 News anchor Jeff Alexander and videojournalist Bill Kumbalek traveled with Vietnam vets and documented the journey here: RETURN TO NAM DOCUMENTARY
it's been emotional for veteran Jerry Simonar.
"Disappointing, I was geared up for it," said Simonar. "All the fellas that I wanted to represent in Kewaunee County and Luxemburg."
Simonar is heartbroken, but he understands the decision.
"I didn't want to bring the sickness back, the virus back to Kewaunee or Luxemburg, I myself, it wouldn't make a difference, but the other people, I wouldn't want to spread that around," he says.
At 87 years old, Simonar says it's hard to fathom a dream late in life won't come true.
"Who would've ever thought that was going to happen, it just blows my mind, I was all set and I got all my physicals and I had all my shots, everything is all done, passport, all they had to do is have ma throw me out of the house and all the village of Luxemburg could celebrate I was gone for 10 days," Simonar says.
Diane MacDonald and the Old Glory Honor Flight Board of Directors say guardians will be issued refunds by the end of March.
"We know you are disappointed. We are too. We had hoped to recognize our Korean war vets’ service and give you the trip you so richly deserve," says MacDonald. "We will keep your contact information if by some chance we can reschedule the trip in the near future. Many thanks for your patience, understanding and most of all, your service!"
There is a sliver of hope.
"It's really going to depend on the way things work with the CDC as well as the Korean government," says MacDonald. "If they say 'hey, we've got the funding for the revisit program, come on over later this fall,' we will certainly do everything we can to get these men there if it is safe and if it is possible."