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Eric Haney: Spreading the word about prostate cancer through Honor Flights

 Eric Haney: Spreading the word about prostate cancer through Honor Flights

Eric Haney has seen his share of action. The retired command sergeant major served in the U.S. Army as a combat infantryman, a Ranger and an early operational member of Delta Force. After leaving the military, Haney worked high-level security in Latin America and the Middle East, negotiating with guerrillas for the return of hostages and providing security for international oil companies. He's worked with fellow ex-Delta commandos to rescue kidnapped American children throughout the world.

His book "Inside Delta Force: The Story of America's Elite Counter-terrorist Unit," was the basis for the CBS television series, "The Unit." He also served as the series' executive producer and writer.

This year, Haney has become a spokesman in a patient-information campaign for Theragenics Corp., a medical device company that makes surgical products, including some for cancer treatment. The campaign, "To Honor. To Cure,"encourages men with prostate cancer to understand all their options when deciding on a treatment.

As part of the campaign, Haney is participating in Theragenics-sponsored flights through the Honor Flight Network that transports World War II veterans (plus family members and guardians) to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, free of charge.

Haney, who will speak at The American Legion National Convention in Louisville, Ky., recently discussed his role in the campaign.

Q: Why is raising awareness about prostate cancer so important?

A: I've had a number of my friends - we are Vietnam-veteran age - who've been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It's something that I've known through VA studies and other medical studies, that the incidence of prostate cancer is twice the national incidence among Vietnam veterans. We've reached that time of our life when it's something that's on the radar. Veterans' health issues are something that resonate with me.

Q: Why is it important to incorporate the Honor Flights program with this campaign?

A: My father's a World War II veteran, and all the men I looked up to growing up - uncles and neighbors and friends in our community, within our church, in our schools - were World War II veterans, and we're losing those men at a rapid rate now. So the opportunity for these flights to get as many veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial and other memorials … is something that's very precious.

Q: You've been on a few of these flights with World War II veterans already. What was that like?

A: It's a really exciting day for these men and women. I tell them when I chat with them that this is like Burger King. "You have it your way today. It's celebrating you." We see that when the vets and their families arrive at the departing airport. The airport people working there go all out for them. There are signs. People are cheering them when they get on the plane for departure. Always the local news is present.

And then the same thing when we arrive in the Washington, D.C., area. That grand reception. People line up on either side of the terminal gate, forming a corridor, through which these veterans pass. They're cheering. They're clapping. I've come through and seen people weeping. These are just passengers who happen to be there, and they realize what's going on and who these men and women are, the veterans. It's a very moving experience.

During the day, the first stop is always the World War II Memorial. It's surprising the number of young people at that memorial. These are the children and grandchildren of veterans. It's just a marvelous day. And one of the highlights every time we've gone is that Sen. Bob Dole is at the memorial. He spends the day meeting as many people as he can. It's that way everywhere they go during the day. By the time we get back on the plane, it's a tired bunch. But it's a happy bunch. And what I think of is that, for many of them, if we'd waited a year to make that trip, they wouldn't have made it.

Q: Why is it important to involve organizations like The American Legion?

A: The American Legion is composed of people from all walks of life: business, commerce, academia, people of influence in their communities. It's just a multiplier for getting the word out about the Honor Flights. It's a good way to get the word out to a constituency that can really throw some weight behind it.

Interview: Steve Brooks

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