If you have ever been on a flight to or from Washington, D.C. that’s half-full of men in their 80s or 90s, you know the feeling.
If you have ever been at the airport when one of these flights arrives or departs, you know the feeling.
Honor Flight Buffalo will commence its fourth year of flying World War II veterans on May 11. A second flight will be conducted on June 15. This not-for-profit charity organization flies World War II veterans to see “their” memorial in the nation’s capital and is staffed solely by volunteers.
“The World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 - some 59 years after the war ended. Our mission is to fly America’s veterans free of charge to visit memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices,” said Lisa A. Wylie, president. “This one day trip is a way of saying thank you to all those who served.”
The cost to send one veteran on this trip is $375. Honor Flight Buffalo has successfully escorted 265 World War II veterans on 10 such excursions since its inception.
One could break down that cost fairly easily. It’s slightly more than a dollar a day. If you get your simple morning coffee at one of the local java shops on the way to work, you could instead fully fund one of these flights before Thanksgiving.
Honor Flight Buffalo was co-founded by sisters Lisa and Jo-Anne Wylie and Charles D. Dunkle. They realized the organization’s national office had more than 200 World War II veterans in the Buffalo area on a waiting list ready to make the journey.
In 2009, it became an official hub of the Honor Flight Network and formed in honor and in memory of the Wylie sisters’ father, Staff Sgt. Robert P. Wylie, himself a World War II veteran who had a role in building the memorial. Unfortunately, he never had the privilege of seeing it.
The organization gives highest priority to America’s most senior veterans. Local organizers say current statistics indicate we are losing these World War II veterans at a rate of 850 each day.
Their next priority will be Korean War veterans and then Vietnam veterans.
Sadly, very few World War II veterans lived to see their tribute on the National Mall.
While approved veterans fly at no charge, escorts who assist them are asked to pay their own way. They can ask to be assigned to a specific veteran, so the family aspect can be the trip of a lifetime.
My first visit to the World War II memorial came a few weeks prior to its official dedication. Fountains were not functional, but dozens of people strolled inside its solemn circle to take a look.
It was overwhelming.
Massive individual stone columns ring the grounds, one devoted to each state and territory in the country at the time of the war.
While many veterans and their family members are drawn to these elements, more find solace in smaller pools where the edges are engraved with the names of the most significant battles from the European and Pacific theaters.
The Battle of the Bulge was meaningful to me. Additional venues were more than places on a map as well, as my late father served in both theaters.
This was reality, preserved in the permanence of sacred stone.
To the west stands the Lincoln Memorial, with the 16th president gazing into a remembrance of the worst conflict of the 20th century. A few steps to the east stands the soaring Washington Monument, a tribute to the father of our country.
How could we have waited so long to pay tribute to hundreds of thousands of Americans who gave up their futures to protect our freedom?
The least we can do is recognize those who speak so seldom of their service.
To access veteran or volunteer applications, visit
www.honorflightbuffalo.org or contact Honor Flight Buffalo at P.O. Box 338, Buffalo, NY 14223. The office telephone number is 254-4376.