MARQUETTE - Two weeks from today, Upper Peninsula Honor Flight will be flying its seventh mission.
In its first six missions, U.P. Honor Flight has taken more than 500 World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial and other landmarks of the nation's capital in emotional journeys that are completed in the space of one busy day.
The trip is anything but routine for Barb Van Rooy, one of its principal organizers.
At the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., a group of participants in the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight’s Mission VI pose for a photo. From the left, Heidi Argall, Bob Thompson, Russell Williams, Kurt Williams, Thomas Anderson and Gerry Anderson. The red T-shirt wearers served as guardians on the trip for their dads, who sport the blue jackets. (Journal file photo by Renee Prusi)
"I am often asked if it is getting boring doing all these flights," Van Rooy said. "When you see the excitement and emotions of the veterans it never gets old. Every trip is special in its own way."
The experience for the Honor Flight veterans is at no charge to them in appreciation for their service and sacrifice to the country. Each veteran is accompanied by a "guardian" who pays his or her own expenses associated with the flight. The U.P. Honor Flight is entirely a volunteer organization and has 501 (c) 3 status.
Mission VII will leave from Delta County Airport in Escanaba in the early hours of Sept. 4. But the night before, there will be a reception for the veterans, giving them a chance to mix and mingle.
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The evening-before gathering also gives some veterans and guardians the chance to meet for the first time because, while some guardians are members of a veteran's family, many of these volunteers are participating just for the chance to help honor these men and women who stepped up when their country called.
"I am surprised and excited that we still have World War II veterans wanting to go on an Honor Flight," Van Rooy said. "Mission VII will have 18 WWII veterans and 63 Korean veterans from 11 different U.P. counties."
The U.P. Honor Flight is part of a national network that is dedicated to bringing every WWII veteran to the WWII Memorial, which did not open until 2004. Adding the Korean War vets has been a joy as well, Van Rooy said.
"We have had a good response from Korean veterans and the flight next spring is already full," she said. "We encourage any WWII or Korean veteran to sign up to get their name on the waiting list. As always, WWII veterans take preference but we want them all - from both wars - to sign up."
The U.P. Honor Flight committee works diligently to come up with the funds for the flight and appreciates the backing it receives. For example, one of the most recent fundraisers was a bike night at the Throttle in Little Lake Aug. 14 that brought in $1,700.
"The Honor Flight is very thankful to everyone for making these flights possible," Vay Rooy said. "We couldn't do it without the support of so many people."
For those who haven't yet seen what Honor Flight is all about, Van Rooy points to an event that will give them an idea of why people are enthralled by them.
"For a patriotic experience you will not experience anywhere else come to the Welcome Home Celebration Thursday, Sept. 4 starting at 7 p.m. at Delta County Airport," she said. "The plane is expected to land at 8:30 p.m."
At that moment, the returning veterans are greeted with a cheering throng on the tarmac who are waving American flags and holding up handmade signs.
As the veterans disembark from the plane, they make their way through a tunnel of greeters, welcoming them home from their special journey.
"There will be entertainment by a band and barbershop group, who do patriotic music and music from the 40s," she said. "We really encourage people to attend. It is a great experience."