When James Haake wraps up a work presentation he pulls out an Honor Flight flyer and concludes by saying the following: “This may feed me, but Honor Flight completes me.”
Haake, who retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1992, represents life insurance, mortgage, annuity and Medicare products. But his passion is helping WWII veterans fly to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorial erected in their honor.
“It took us (the USA) 50 years to build this memorial,” he said. “And now they want to see it. But not for themselves; they want to see this for 4,000 stars that represent the 403,399 service men and women who died during WW2, that they will never be forgotten. That’s what they go for.”
Haake can barely talk about Honor Flight without revealing his emotions.
“It’s knowing that Honor Flight takes care of a question many WWII veterans have asked,” he said. “The question is, ‘Did they forget us?’ And the answer is ‘No.’”
Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1949, Haake’s family moved to Ft. Lauderdale in 1957. They relocated to Pompano, where he graduated high school and became the youngest journeyman lineman in the history of Florida Power.
He entered the Army as an E5 in 1971. But it wasn’t long before he was redirected to officer school, jump school and then jumpmaster school. He completed 125 jumps and lived in Australia, Hawaii, Korea and a least five states before completing his career organizing logistics for CENTCOM at MacDill.
“It was a sleepy command until Saddam invaded Kuwait, August 9, 1990,” Haake said. “Working Desert Shield and Desert Storm with General Norman Schwarzkopf was the greatest experience of my life.” On September 28 of 2010, Haake first heard about the work of Honor Flight.
“I’m a member of the Hillsborough County Veterans Council,” he said. “We visited the James A.Haley Veterans’ Hospital. Fred Olson (past president) talked about Honor Flight, Looking for volunteers. I was like, ‘You had me at hello.’”
Haake shared some facts: “We’re losing close to 1,000 WWII vets every day. Honor Flight was launched by (national chair) Jim McLaughlin in Ohio in 2005. There are 104 chapters, in every state. The West Central Florida Chapter was organized in 2010. We’ve taken 389 veterans so far. Our next flight is Tuesday, September 18.”
Each round-trip charter costs $54,000; $29,000 comes from guardians, whose $400 ticket also covers the veteran they escort. That leaves a fundraising goal of $25,000 per flight.
“Pre-flight orientation is the most heart wrenching and humbling experience you will ever have,” Haake said. “I’m standing in front of not just a book, but living history. I’m not reading it, I’m looking at it. September’s flight includes survivors of the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Iwo Jima, and more. One of the last WWII aces will be there. They’re all so humble.”
Haake and his wife, Suzy, have lived in their Valrico home since 1989; their daughters and four grandchildren are close by. “This is a wonderful place to be,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
For more about Honor Flight, go to www.honorflightwcf.org.