By Marie Gilmore
The Tampa Bay Lightning honored WWII Veteran and Honor Flight of West Central Florida co-founder, Leonard Black, as the 22nd Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of its game against the Montreal Canadiens in February. Black, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Honor Flight of West Central Florida (HF).
Honor Flight of West Central Florida, a non-profit with a sole purpose of taking WWII Veterans to their World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. for free, for the day, was started locally just three years ago when Black, along with another founder, Fred Olsen, combined forces and created the organization. Working tirelessly, the two men have inspired its volunteer board in funding and flying more than 500 WWII Veterans and volunteer guardians to D.C. This year, current president James Haake, a retired career Army Veteran himself, hopes to fly 600 additional WWII Vets.
“We are in a race against the clock,” said Haake from the Lightning Game. “These are men and women who fought for our freedom 68 years ago and they are now between 85-95 years old. We need to make these flights happen.”
The Lightning Foundation Grant will assist in getting two additional flights, representing an additional 150 Veterans, to D.C.
For Black, this was a proud moment. During the first period of the Lightning game, Black was introduced by jumbotron to the crowd as a 90-second life story aired that was narrated by a current Lightning player. After the video, Black was shown, surrounded by his two daughters, to the crowd donning his new custom Honor Flight Lightning jersey which he now wears with pride.
“This has just been a great day,” said Black. “This donation will help us send more of our World War II Veterans on Honor Flight.”
An American war hero, Black served the United States military for more than 25 years, defending the country during World War II. After losing his son at the age of 24, he was inspired to help serve other people. His wife of 54 years also suffers from Parkinson’s disease which made him promise that he would always help others. Black is a crucial church volunteer distributing food to 28 families across the Tampa Bay area. He also coordinates patriotic observances for Hillsborough County.
While in the military, Black attained the highest enlisted rank, Chief Master Sergeant. Being such a devoted military hero, Black saw the need to help the 32,000 World War II veterans living in West Central Florida get to Washington, D.C. to see their memorials built on the National Mall. He has helped organize honor flights for more than 500 local World War II military heroes.
Honor Flight of West Central Florida has flights scheduled for 2013 and is seeking volunteers, guardians and donations. For more information, visit www.honorflightwcf.org.
Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program awards grants of $50,000 to local non-profits at every home game. For more information, visit http://lightning.nhl.com.