Over the past six months, I have been honoring elders in our family and close friends, and learning about how they served our country. Their generation, dubbed the greatest generation, is passing quite literally before our eyes. Because of these personal relationships and a desire to do more for my generation, I accepted an offer to attend a homecoming for a Badger Honor Flight in May.
I knew that this would be a welcome home complete with flags and music from Ladies Must Swing (my friend’s wife was sitting in that night, also a vet). But I was not prepared for the crowd we found when we entered the Dane County Regional Airport—there were so many people of all ages. Personal hand-drawn signs welcoming home grandpa; a sister; uncle; or, like me, any and all honor flight vets.
The welcome home team created a broad parade route through the airport lobby, and while we waited for veterans to arrive, couples periodically stepped out to dance to the music. Though it was well into midevening, no one was leaving. The band broke into a continuous medley of the music for each of the armed forces as the veterans started down the stairs to be honored by the crowd one at a time. It felt good to be able to say thank you in this way.
Badger Honor Flight was formed in 2009, with its first flight in 2010. A single flight carrying approximately 90 veterans and their guardians (personal escorts) costs $110,000, and guardians pay their own way. Since 2010, Badger Honor Flight has sent 31 flights serving just over 2,700 veterans. With three flights planned for fall 2018, they expect to reach the 3,000th veteran by November.
Badger Honor Flight allows veterans to pick their guardian, which can be a relation as long as they meet the requirements. If a veteran does not have someone to go, a guardian can be provided from a pool in Washington D.C. Badger Honor Flight also provides a guardian training session so that each person understands their role in making the day special and safe.
A small army of volunteers drive the project from funding and planning to executing a flight. The volunteers plan a complete day from start to finish, which includes flights, meals, a companion or guardian, a medical team, participant shirts and jackets, charter buses in Washington D.C., and send offs and welcomes at both ends of the trip. A special and emotional part of the day is mail call on the way home. All of this is done to make the day the most memorable possible.
The itinerary carefully plans out visits to the most revered sites, leaving time for each veteran to linger at any particular site. The one-to-one ratio of veteran to guardian means that each vet can take their time and tour at their own pace at each memorial: Arlington National Cemetery, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Air Force Memorial, and 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon.
Badger Honor Flight is part of Honor Flight Network, which emerged from two similar projects, each designed to bring aging World War II veterans to see the World War II Memorial completed in 2004. In 2005, Earl Morse, a pilot and veteran himself, convinced other pilots to join him. On that first trip, 6 small private planes flew 12 veterans to Washington, D.C. for the first flight. By the end of the year, Honor Flight served 126 World War II veterans using a combination of small planes and commercial flights.
The following year, Jeff Miller, inspired by Earl Morse, decided to organize flights on large commercial jets. By the end of 2006, Jeff’s organization, HonorAir, had flown more than 300 World War II veterans to the World War II Memorial. The two organizations merged with the common mission of creating a day for veterans to come together in their communities, to fly or travel at no cost to themselves to Washington D.C., and then to spend the day visiting the country’s war memorials all the while being honored for their service.
During this season of giving, I encourage you to consider one of the many ways you can give to Badger Honor Flight. This is not just a flight or a sightseeing trip, but a way to give back to those that gave to us.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .
Things you can do to help Badger Honor Flight.
Volunteers are needed year-round for everything from making calls to veterans and their families to helping at fundraisers to helping with the send off and welcome home celebrations. Volunteer meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month. Meetings start at 7:00 p.m. at VFW Post 1318 at 133 E. Lakeside Street in Madison. Check the website for dates and a list of volunteer activities, or contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Donate or Attend a Fundraiser
With flights being provided for free to veterans and yet costing $110,000, fundraisers are essential in providing this service and raising community awareness. Events are listed on the website or if you want to help with a fundraiser, contact email@example.com .
Help a Veteran Sign Up
Badger Honor Flight currently accepts applications from veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. However, priority is given to those from World War II and those with terminal illnesses. If you are a veteran, you can complete and return the application at no cost. Or if you know of someone who is a World War II veteran or a veteran with a terminal illness, you can fill out an application on their behalf.
Other programs (hubs) in Wisconsin
Appleton – Old Glory Honor Flight
La Crosse – Freedom Honor Flight
Milwaukee/Port Washington – Stars and Stripes Honor Flight
Wausau – Never Forgotten Honor Flight
Honor Flight Solo Program
Recognizing Honor Flight Network does not have a hub in every corner of the country, the national Honor Flight organization has created several programs that provide some flexibility for travel and enable veterans from across the country to participate. Go to honorflight.org .