Frank Manchel spent his final days being honored for his service during a commemorative and complimentary trip to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C., provided by Honor Flight Network
Frank Manchel
Credit: Honor Flight San Diego/Facebook

A World War II veteran spent his final days taking a trip of a lifetime alongside his family and getting honored for his service before he sadly died on his special flight home.

Over the weekend, Frank Manchel, a former World War II U.S. Army Sergeant, was joined by his two sons, nephew, and brother in Washington D.C. as part of a commemorative trip offered by the Honor Flight Network in San Diego.

The nationwide nonprofit organization works to honor America’s veterans by transporting them at no cost to their war memorials in Washington D.C., according to their website.

Frank’s “amazing weekend”, however, would turn out to be his last as the 95-year-old “humble hero” suddenly collapsed and died on his special flight home to San Diego, the city’s Honor Flight hub announced in a statement on their Facebook.

“It is with our most deepest sympathy that we send our condolences to the Frank Manchel family,” they wrote. “Mr. Manchel passed away on the flight to San Diego last evening. He collapsed and resuscitation measures were taken but he could not be revived.”

His son, Bruce Manchel, who was on the flight with him, issued a statement on their Facebook and said the weekend was quite memorable for his father.

“Frank Manchel was so excited to go on Honor Flight. To be with both of his sons as well as his 93-year-old brother who met him in Washington, D.C. was so special,” he wrote. “My father’s passing was the ending to the most amazing weekend, surrounded by his newest best friends.”

“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,” he continued. “Frank passed quickly and peacefully and the compassion and respect that that was shown to our family will be treasured always. May he rest in peace as he is now with his other beloved son Jimmy.”

Speaking to Fox 5 San Diego, Bruce elaborated on their time in Washington D.C., noting how Frank was honored by strangers passing by in the street — an experience Bruce said his father embraced.

“This trip brought my dad out of his shell,” he told the outlet. “When we were walking down the streets of D.C., people were just coming up to him, shaking his hand, [saying] ‘thank you for your service.’ He was just soaking that up.”

On Sunday, Frank and Bruce boarded the special flight, which was filled with veterans, and headed back home to California.

The former Army Sergeant was even photographed on the plane, proudly showing off his World War II veteran hat and trip badge, while another captured Frank flashing a giant smile and holding up a thank you sign.

Mr. Frank Manchel was 95 years old and a U.S. Army WWII veteran
Frank Manchel
| Credit: Honor Flight San Diego/Facebook

Midway through the flight, Bruce told Fox 5 that his father got up to go to the bathroom and suddenly collapsed. Luckily, a passenger nearby caught him, who later told Bruce that Frank’s death was instantaneous.

“The fella who caught my dad came up to me and said, ‘Listen, your dad — within 5 seconds of having him in my arms, was gone,'” Bruce recalled to the outlet.

With only 45 minutes left before landing, Bruce quietly sat next to his deceased father — but the silence was cut short by a chorus of singing veterans who joined in on an emotional rendition of “God Bless America.”

When they finally landed, Bruce told Fox 5 the passengers exited the plane as normal but made sure to pay their respects to his father by “saluting him as they went by.” Adds Bruce: “It was a beautiful scene.”

According to the nonprofit organization, Frank’s body was then “draped in an American Flag that Honor Flight San Diego carries on every trip,” with chaplains on the flight leading prayers for the fallen vet.

“Medical personnel, firefighters and law enforcement saluted Mr. Manchel as paramedics escorted his body to the tarmac,” they added.

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Services for Frank are expected to occur in the coming days. As a way to show their final respects, American Airlines (who had been the carrier of the flight Frank died on) offered to fly him and his family members to his final resting place in Michigan, free of cost, according to Honor Flight San Diego.

“May this humble hero RIP. 🇺🇸” they finished, adding a photo of the veteran on his return flight — capturing one of his final moments.

Founded in 2005, Honor Flight now consists of 130 hubs across America. The organization is able to fund the free flights to D.C. through “private donations from individuals, foundations, associations, business owners and corporations wishing to thank our veterans for their service to the United States and our citizens,” the site reads.

Top priority is currently given to the eldest veterans, particularly who fought in World War II and the Korean War, as well as those who are terminally ill.