Stockman Bank on Monday announced a statewide effort to help raise money to send World War II veterans on Big Sky Honor Flights to the Washington D.C. monument honoring their service.
During a news conference at Stockman Bank’s West End location, CEO Bill Coffee, flanked by WWII vets who have made the trip, said the company’s 26 banks across Montana will be working with local schools and organizations to raise an estimated $25,000 to $30,000.
“Stockman Bank is elated to be part of this great project. It’s a small way for us to give back,” Coffee said.
Each Stockman Bank branch will match up to $500 donations raised by local partners. Some of the local partners include St. Francis elementary and middle schools, Laurel Middle School and the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.
Bill Kennedy, a Yellowstone County commissioner who has supervised fundraising efforts, also introduced Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh as the organization’s honorary chairman.
The Honor Flight group already has sent two fights and has scheduled three more trips for later this spring — April 21-22, May 19-20 and June 16-17. Each flight costs about $155,000 and takes approximately 90 veterans.
With a $60,000 donation from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation announced on Sunday, Kennedy said the April and May flights are fully funded.
Another $149,000 is needed for the June trip. “I know we will get that off the ground also,” Kennedy said.
So far, 365 veterans have signed up for the next few flights. Two more flights -- in September and October -- also are being planned.
The goal is to fly all of Montana’s WWII vets to see the monument. “It’s very important we thank them,” Kennedy said.
Walsh, who retired last year as adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, said he was honored to be chairman of the group. “I’m really looking forward to meeting the veterans and listening to their stories,” he said.
A decorated veteran himself, Walsh will accompany veterans on the April flight. Walsh served 33 years in the National Guard and led the organization since 2008. He commanded the 750-soldier 1-163rd Infantry Battalion in Iraq in 2004 and 2006 and was awarded the bronze star and combat infantryman’s badge for his actions.
Kennedy also recognized others who are contributing to the Honor Flight, including Billings resident Sandy Weiss, on behalf of her father, Steve Voltz of Columbus, who is too ill to make the trip himself, Bob and Edna Dunker of Fly In Lube and Cross Petroleum, which is raising money in Glendive and Sidney.