By Marie Gilmore
For the second time in the last six months, a group of Brandon area businesses have teamed together to make a difference in the lives of WWII Veterans by sponsoring an entire charter airplane to escort 80 Veterans and 80 guardians on an Honor Flight.
The upcoming flight is actually Mission #13 for the non-profit organization of Honor Flight of West Central Florida whose sole mission is to take WWII Veterans on a day trip to their memorial in Washington D.C. Upon returning home on the night of October 8, the organization will have flown more than 900 WWII Veterans and volunteer guardians to D.C. in less than three years.
On Tuesday, October 8, the 80 WWII Veterans will wake up early to embark on a day trip of a lifetime. And, to accompany them, 80 volunteer guardians including 25 local residents who signed up for the privilege of taking the trip.
To pay for the trip, $25,000 in event and corporate donations is needed plus a fee of $400 per guardian to cover the costs of the chartered flight, meals and bus fees for the day trip. To earn the $25,000, local businesses hosted a fundraising movie night, Bunco, spirit night fundraisers and then asked for private donations from corporate sponsors.
The urgency of the project in the last three years, according to Honor Flight president and Valrico resident, James Haake, a retired Army Veteran, is that we have the largest living population of WWII Vets here in Florida and we are losing them daily. If a WWII Vet was drafted at the end of WWII, in 1945, they were 17-years-old and went straight to boot camp from high school. Today, the youngest of them is 85 and the average age is 90.
Because the WWII memorial took 68 years to build and give a respectful representation to the 400,000 American lives lost, none of the Veterans on the Honor Flight have ever seen it.
“These are the men and women who fought for our freedom,” describes Haake. Honor Flight of West Central Florida (WCF), is entirely volunteer run. Currently, more than 200 WWII Vets are on the waiting list for the opportunity to fly. Each charter flight can accommodate about 75-80 veterans, along with 75-80 guardians and support crew.
Flights leave the local area at 6 a.m. to fly direct to D.C. where the group boards charter busses and take a photo at Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial, then a one-hour stop at the World War II Memorial with a final stop at the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam memorials before a return trip to the airport and home the same night. Upon arrival home, the Vets are greeted with a Welcome Home by family, friends, local Veteran organizations, bands and supporters to give them the final recognition of another ‘Mission Accomplished.’
“We need to get these Vets up to D.C. for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and the time is now,” said Haake.
Businesses supporting the Brandon sponsored, October 8 Flight include:
Alex & Donna Walker-Keller Williams
Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center
Chick-fil-A Lake Brandon Village & Westfield Brandon Paul & Tammy Holmberg
Dynamic Painting USA
Family Fence Company-Mike Kennedy
In Memory, WWII Veteran Bruce Grabert
Kids ‘R’ Kids Circa FishHawk & Valrico
Platinum Bank-Jerry Kyle
Polley Family Wellness
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium
Take Out Butler-Erik Butler
Tampa Electric Company
Wal-Mart Bloomingdale Square
William Belton DMD
Riverview Chamber members Cliff & Lisa Kennedy & Michelle Mosher
To get involved in Honor flight or donate to a flight or sign up to be a guardian, visit www.honorflightwcf.org.