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As Honor Flight Buffalo closes down, its all-volunteer effort deserves celebration

The founders of Honor Flight Buffalo have worked tirelessly over the past half-dozen years to recognize members of the Greatest Generation, flying 500 World War II veterans to Washington to see military memorials, especially “their” monument, the World War II Memorial on the National Mall.

Jo-Anne Wylie and her sister Lisa Wylie, along with Charles Dan Dunkle, started Honor Flight in memory of the Wylies’ father, who served in World War II, but died before he could see the memorial. Their aunt, Dorothy Keough, soon joined and also played a major role as Honor Flight served the region’s World War II veterans.

The three women always intended their role in Honor Flight Buffalo to be limited, and last week announced they were stepping down and disbanding the organization. While understandable, there is a certain sadness in the conclusion of a remarkable organization.

The Wylies and Keough dedicated themselves to their work. They, a few board members and dozens of other volunteers spent countless hours organizing the trips for World War II veterans who, thanks to the organization’s fundraising efforts, did not pay a dime for their trips. Each veteran was accompanied by a paying guardian – usually a family member or friend.

As News staff reporter Anne Neville wrote, planning involved juggling innumerable details leading up to the big day. Volunteers arrived at the airport as early as 3:30 a.m., sometimes remaining until midnight. Anyone who has organized as much as a book club understands the logistics involved, made all the more challenging by the frail condition of many of the veterans.

The article noted that the organizers were unable to find the necessary volunteers willing to step into high-pressure board roles, and they did not want to pass control over to people they did not know, according to President Lisa Wylie. Along the way the board members decided to dissolve the group and eliminate their own liability.

Any remaining funds in the group’s coffers will be donated to the national Honor Flight office. Wylie hopes the national office will use the money “to carry on the mission of Honor Flight.”

There are 30 World War II veterans on the Honor Flight Buffalo waiting list, and the organization is working to honor their service. If the national office approves, Wylie plans to personally thank the veterans for their service and offer them a copy of a book and a DVD about the Washington memorials.

For now, it is the community that should be thanking Jo-Anne and Lisa Wylie and Dorothy Keough, along with all the tireless volunteers of Honor Flight Buffalo, for their service.