With a $20,575 donation from Montana Budweiser Wholesalers, the third tour of Big Sky Honor Flight of Montana is almost airborne.
The independent wholesale distributors presented the check to the Big Sky Honor Flight Committee on Thursday and wasted no time in committing their support again next summer.
Distributors across Montana volunteered earlier this year to donate a portion of their beer sales between May and August to help send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorial.
“I’ll make the commitment for all the distributors for next summer,” said Carter Mollgaard, president of M&C Beverage Inc. of Miles City. “Everybody is touched by what this money does for these veterans. It’s such a good thing to do.”
Bill Kennedy, vice president of the Big Sky Honor Flight Committee, said the third flight is about $35,000 shy of becoming reality. Each trip costs about $155,000.
Kennedy said the beer distributors' donation exceeded his expectations and said it is significant beyond its financial merit.
“This means we have statewide support,” Kennedy said. “This is not just a Billings and Yellowstone County project.”
There are 256 World War II veterans on a waiting list to make the trip, with veterans calling each day to add their name. Ninety-seven veterans made the first trip in June. Eighty-seven were on the second flight in September.
Kennedy said that as many as six trips might be needed to ensure that all World War II veterans get the chance to go. The oldest veteran to make the trip to date was 102.
The National World War II Memorial opened in 2004 as a tribute to the 16 million Americans who served during the war.
Honor Flight was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain from Ohio. In May 2005, Morse arranged for six small planes to carry 12 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial.
By the end of 2011, the national Honor Flight network had flown about 83,000 veterans to see the memorial. Thirty-three states now have the Honor Flight program.