An effort to fly Montana World War II veterans to the Washington, D.C., monument honoring their sacrifice has raised enough money for at least three flights this spring, organizers said Sunday.
Big Sky Honor Flight made the announcement at West Park Village, while receiving a $60,000 donation from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation. The flights, of which there have been two, cost about $155,000 each. The group’s goal is to get every Montana World War II veteran physically capable of making the trip to the national monument.
“What’s important from this is we know the next three flights will get off the ground,” said Bill Kennedy, the Yellowstone County commissioner who has supervised fundraising efforts for the group. “We’ll be able to take our veterans back to Washington, D.C.”
Now in their late 80s and 90s, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Big Sky Honor Flight supporters, including Sen. Max Baucus, and Billings Mayor Tom Hanel, both were on hand Sunday. Kennedy thanked Baucus for accommodating the Honor Flight veterans once they arrive in Washington, D.C., and for helping raise money for the flights.
He credited Baucus for securing a $5,000 grant from Delta Airlines, which also was announced Sunday.
But BNSF Foundation was the donor of the day. With Sunday’s check, the foundation has given $100,000 to Big Sky Honor Flight.
“The Honor Flight organization has really taken on what is for all of us a sacred obligation to recognize the sacrifices and accomplishments of America’s veterans,” said Matt Jones, of BNSF Foundation. “I cannot say in strong enough words how appreciative BNSF and BNSF Foundation are for everything you’re doing.”
Baucus said meeting veterans at the World War II memorial and listening to their stories of courage and sacrifice is a privilege.
“Sharing stories with people who just love life and are so proud of what they did in serving America made me think of my father too,” Baucus said.
“My father is a World War II vet. He’s not been with us for some time, but I often think of him when I think of the Honor Flights. I guess we honor all our vets those who are able to go and those that are not here with us.”
Veterans at the event said anyone physically capable of making the trip should. Marine veterans Bill Van Wieren and Herbert Livingston, who made the trip last year, said there were even nurses and doctors available to help them during the 36-hour round trip.