World War II vet dies just before leaving for Milwaukee Honor Flight

CREATED Jun. 10, 2013 - UPDATED: Jun. 10, 2013

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  • Video by wtmj.com

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  • Walter Smith (center), who passed away a short time before his Honor Flight.

MILWAUKEE - It's a difficult reminder of why time is so critical for Honor Flight.  A vet who was scheduled to fly this past weekend on the Honor Flight from Milwaukee got to the airport but lost consciousness and passed away before making the flight.

"[it] underscores our mission that time is of the essence," said Honor Flight's Renee Riddle

World War II veteran Walter Smith was taken to the hospital after losing consciousness at the airport Saturday morning.  He died at a local hospital a short time later.

"You just (couldn't) help but fall in love with him," said Matt Gorniak to 620WTMJ's Jodi Becker.  Matt was supposed to be Walter's guardian.

Gorniak went on the flight at the family's request.  He made sure to get the letters delivered for Walter's mail call.  He will deliver the letters to Walter's letters to his family so some of them can be used during his eulogy.

"I really believe they may want to read some of these letters."

Gorniak said that Walter's family wanted his story told.

"They absolutely believe, with no uncertainty, that Honor Flight is what kept Walter alive the past few months," said Gorniak.

"He was so excited about this flight."

He says Walter's family now hopes his story of time running out will encourage other veterans to sign up and go on an Honor Flight before their time runs out.

"Our Stars and Stripes Honor Flight board of directors sends our condolences to Walter's family and wish to honor this hero for his service to our nation," said Riddle.