MARQUETTE - Because of what Barb Van Rooy saw while she was in Washington, D.C., the Upper Peninsula is getting its own chapter of the Honor Flight.
And the program needs help from the public.
Gladstone resident Van Rooy and her siblings made a dream come true for their parents by taking them to Washington to visit the World War II Memorial, which was dedicated in 2004. Van Rooy said she was surprised by the reaction of other visitors to the memorial, who took photos of themselves with her dad, gave him hugs and thanked him for his service to the nation.
Howard Lehto, at left, a U.S. Army veteran from Negaunee, stands in front of the fountain at the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C., with another veteran who took part in the Old Glory Honor Flight out of Appleton, Wis., earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Ron Collien)
"My dad was also very surprised and awed by these signs of appreciation from total strangers," Van Rooy said via email. "While we were at the memorial there was a large group of elderly men with yellow T-shirts on and I wondered who they were. I went to speak with some of them and found out they were there on an Honor Flight from South Dakota or North Dakota (I can't remember which). I was very impressed at the reactions of the large group of veterans and their expressions of praise for the Honor Flight.
"They also expressed appreciation for the Honor Flight Program because they would not have been able to come to the WWII Memorial without the help of the Honor Flight Program."
The Honor Flight, which has chapters around the nation, has as its objective bringing every World War II veteran to visit the World War II Memorial. Van Rooy, so moved by her own experience seeing the group of veterans together at the memorial, did research and found Michigan's closest honor flight chapter was in Detroit. She found the northeastern Wisconsin chapter in Appleton and started volunteering there, but wanted to bring the Upper Peninsula its own unit.
So, along with others, Van Rooy helped the U.P. group become established as a hub in April in Escanaba. The Upper Peninsula group is an affiliate of the Honor Flight Network, which was founded in 2005 as a non-profit 501(C)3 organization with the goal of flying as many veterans from around the country to the WWII Memorial as possible. The program receives no national or government funding.
Carol Shepeck, the U.P. group's publicity chair, said the goal is to have the inaugural flight take place this autumn from the Delta County Airport in Escanaba.
"It took 60 years to build a memorial recognizing the service and sacrifices that were made by our 'Greatest Generation.' As a result far too many of our nation's heroes never had the chance to visit their memorial," Shepeck said via email.
The flights have one guardian for every two veterans to take care of their needs throughout the day. Guardians donate $500 to help offset their cost but the tour is free to all veterans. Medical staff and wheelchairs will be available. Included in the tour is airfare, insurance, deluxe tour bus, meals, T-shirts and more.
Shepeck said to make this flight possible, donations can be sent to Upper Peninsula Honor Flight in care of the Community Foundation for the Upper Peninsula, at 2500 7th Avenue South, Suite 103, Escanaba, MI 49829.
She said current supporting partners are the Community Foundation for the Upper Peninsula, Delta County Airport, Peninsula Bay Inn, TV6 and FOX UP, The Escanaba Daily Press, WDBC/WYKX, Richards Printing and Johnston Printing.
Shepeck said they are looking for veterans to make the trip. Anyone interested should call Barb at (906) 280-1471 for WWII veteran applications or to find out how to be a guardian or volunteer.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.