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WW II vet, 95, dies on ‘Honor Flight’ home to San Diego after trip to Washington

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Frank Manchel collapsed and died aboard an Honor Flight returning from Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
(Honor Flight San Diego)

A 95-year-old former soldier died over the weekend aboard a so-called Honor Flight carrying World War II veterans back home to San Diego after an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Washington, D.C.

Frank Manchel collapsed about an hour before the chartered American Airlines jet was scheduled to land Sunday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Two physicians, including his own son, Bruce Manchel, were unable to revive him.

“It was almost instantaneous,” said Dave Smith, founder of Honor Flight San Diego. “He was laughing, chatting, having a good time — and then he collapsed.”

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Chaplains prayed over the body, and it was covered with an American flag.

As the plane was descending to its destination, another passenger, former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who is the daughter of a World War II vet, suggested those aboard sing “God Bless America” in tribute to Manchel, and the plane was filled with song, the newspaper reported.

Fellow veterans saluted as they passed Frank Manchel’s body while exiting the plane. First responders at the scene also saluted as the body was taken from the plane.

“My father’s passing was the ending to the most amazing weekend, surrounded by his newest best friends,” Frank Manchel said in a statement Monday. “We thank all of you — Honor Flight San Diego, American Airlines, San Diego International Airport, friends, and supporters for your concern and for allowing the weekend to be so special for all of us to share together.”

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Zimmerman said that when she chatted with the elder Manchel and his family on Saturday, the veteran was in an upbeat mood.

“He was 100% engaged, proud, humble — as these veterans are,” she said. “You could just tell how proud they all were of him. It was just wonderful — a loving, loving family.”

American Airlines offered to transport Manchel’s remains and relatives to Michigan, where services and burial are planned.

Six other deaths have happened on Honor Flights originating from other cities.

“We know this is a potential situation,” Smith said. “We want to honor these veterans, but this is one of our worst fears that this might happen. We do everything we can to make sure these veterans are safe.”

The nonprofit Honor Flight Network was founded to enable aging veterans to visit the National World War II Memorial, which was completed in 2004.

The organization plans to eventually focus on Korean War veterans and then those who served in Vietnam.


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