By Dennis Priore
A little over a year ago, if you had asked me what Honor Flight was, I don’t think I could have given you a very good answer. I had read in The Buffalo News and seen coverage on TV (and then shortly thereafter forgot) about the all-volunteer group that sends primarily World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for the day to honor them and give them the opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial and the other national war memorials.
But around that time I saw in The News a story about the local chapter or hub that was disbanding due to a dwindling number of volunteers. Before long there was another story of a few members from the Albany hub who were trying to help the local chapter get re-established. The Leatherstocking Honor Flight couldn’t accept the fact that Buffalo area veterans would not be served.
The article asked for those interested to send an email, and before long I was among a group of about 25 local volunteers who have helped to re-establish the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight that on Saturday will send its third flight with 37 veterans – all in their 90s, except one who is 103 – and their chaperones or guardians to the nation’s capital.
The Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight has a board and volunteers who specialize in many different areas, including publicity, fundraising, transportation, meeting arrangements and more.
But as our president, Tom Petrie, stresses: “It’s all about the veterans.”
The veterans and their guardians fly to Washington and back and all of the arrangements, including ground transportation and three meals, are paid for through donations. Many fundraising events have occurred and more will be held over the next several months.
In particular, look for our presence at the Taste of Buffalo in July as Tops Supermarkets has partnered with us to donate the proceeds from its centrally located booth.
Another sponsor, the Zippo Co., from nearby Bradford, Pa., has produced an authentic circa 1941 lighter for each veteran.
And speaking of Bradford, two school administrators from that city – Superintendent Katharine Pude and elementary school Principal Sarah Tingley – were on the last flight and a new partnership was born that has allowed the local hub to reach into the Bradford area, which previously was underserved.
Of the more than 16 million World War II veterans, about 500 die each day and there are only about 5 percent still with us.
Saturday morning at 6 a.m. at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, there will be a few hundred families, well-wishers and a 40-piece band to help send off the vets and their guardians on an unforgettable day.
They will not only visit the World War II Memorial, but the memorials of Vietnam, Korea and Iwo Jima, as well as Arlington National Cemetery. They will see fellow vets from hubs from around the country. And, like on most Saturdays, they probably will have a chance to meet one very famous World War II vet, longtime U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Bob Dole.
They will wear polo shirts that say: “If you can read this, thank a teacher; if you can read this in English, thank a WWII vet.”
Many of the volunteers are the children of a member of the Greatest Generation, which includes men and women. More volunteers as well as donations are always needed and appreciated. For further information and to nominate a vet, go to BuffaloNiagaraHonorFlight.org on the web or Facebook.