On Dec. 7, a community partnership will remember Pearl Harbor Day by pledging to support World War II Veterans from the Pioneer Valley on a special flight to Washington D.C.
A committee of veteran organizations and community partners will be sending applications for area World War II veterans for the Honor Flight program for area veterans to see their memorial. The Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke Visiting Nurse Association / Hospice Life Care and VFW Post 801 in Holyoke are collecting applications from World War II veterans to go on the next flights, which will take place in the spring, summer and fall of 2014.
There are 105 Honor Flight chapters around the country, and terminally ill vets from any war are accepted on a priority basis. After serving World War II vets, the organization will move on to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Pioneer Valley applications will be sent to Honor Flight New England, the regional branch for the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization created to honor veterans with a trip to Washington. The organization covers the transportation, medical support, and food costs for the day trips for the veterans.
On Nov. 7, the movie, “Honor Flight,” a 2012 documentary about the program, was shown to more than 250 people at a special Holyoke premiere at Holyoke Community College. In the audience were several World War II veterans, who said they would like to participate in the program. Many found the night of honoring service to be very emotional, and funds were also collected to support the program.
It means a lot honoring the veterans that have given so much to this country,” said Lloyd Askew, a World War II veteran from Ludlow who served in the Army Air Forces.
Joe Byron, founder of Honor Flight New England, spoke to the audience at the movie and noted the importance of the program in honoring World War II veterans. “It really is a humbling experience to be a part of this. Our World War II veterans have done so much for our country, and this is the least we can do. And it’s so gratifying to see so many veterans here tonight,” said Byron, who was thanked after the movie by four area World War II veterans, who had flown on an Honor Flight.
“It was an amazing experience. Everywhere we went, people were there to thank us and it was just such a beautiful day. t’s a day I won’t ever forget. At our age, we don’t get a lot of opportunities like this,” said Navy World War II veteran Charles Kovitch of Chicopee of his day in Washington. Recalling his Honor Flight two years ago, he presented Byron with a $1,000 check at the month on behalf of American Legion Post 337 in Aldenville.
Time is truly of the essence. Between 600 and 900 World War II veterans pass away each day across the nation. At the Soldiers’ Home, where about half of the 300 veteran residents are from the World War II era, about two to three veterans pass away each week. The average age of the World War II veteran is 90 years old.
“Our goal is to sign up as many World War II veterans who want to visit the memorial built in their honor and to spend a day in our nation’s capital,” says John Paradis, communications director at the Soldiers’ Home.
Community organizers are working with Honor Flight New England to have as many World War II veterans on flights leaving from Boston in the spring. The Honor Flight Committee will provide transportation from the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and a celebration send-off is being planned for the flights. The committee will also help identify guardians for the trip – family members or volunteers who assist and take care of the veterans participating on the Honor Flight throughout the duration of the trip.
Several veterans at the Soldiers’ Home and in the community have never seen the nation’s capital and many, are not physically or financially able to consider a trip to Washington on their own.
“It took 60 years for our country to build the memorial, and we don’t have many years left for our veterans to receive a final thank you and the recognition they have earned and deserve for fighting and winning the largest and most significant war in human history,” said Paradis.
Area World War II veterans should contact Brian Willette of VFW Post 801, a committee member, who will assist veterans with completing the application for the Honor Flight. Willette can be reached at (413) 262-1031.