Standing in front of about 80 people at Montana State University Billings' downtown campus on Sunday, Electrical Consultants, Inc. owner Dave Anderson essentially paid for 10 World War II veterans to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Washington, D.C., monument honoring their sacrifices.
"It's a continued honor to be part of this illustrious group and wonderful organization," he said just before handing over a $10,000 check to Big Sky Honor Flight.
The program flies veterans to the capital on a two-day trip to view the war memorials and monuments set up in their honor and it costs about $1,000 per veteran, although they never have to pay any of the costs.
When Anderson handed over the check — he also donated $5,000 earlier and another $1,400 so he and his wife can go on the trip and help in May — he did so in front of dozens of the veterans the donation from ECI helps out.
"This truly is one that's probably dearest to our hearts," he said.
The third Honor Flight will take 88 veterans to Washington on April 21 and about 80 people — participants, volunteers, family members — gathered at MSUB downtown to go over the details, logistics and schedule of the trip when the donation came.
Tina Vauthier, Big Sky Honor Flight committee chairwoman, said that interest in the program has been growing since its inaugural flight last fall, which translates into more support.
"The more educated people are about what our World War II vets have done for our our country, the more supportive they become," she said.
The veterans, who are in their late 80s and 90s, came to the meeting from all over eastern and southern Montana, while a similar meeting was held in Missoula for the 35 participants in western the half of the state.
During the meeting, committee members and a Transportation Security Administration representative went over the odds and ends participants should keep in mind, as well as rules for the trip.
During a question and answer period, Robert Lubbers, of Billings, raised his hand and thanked the Honor Flight crew for what they're doing and said his brothers, were they still here today, would have felt the same.
"This is one of the biggest things that I can think of that's being done to help veterans," he said. "It's just beyond belief. It's one of the greatest things that I'll be a part of."
Lubbers joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 in March of 1944. He was one of six people in his family who served in the war, including a trio of brothers who served in the Pacific campaign.
He didn't make it overseas, working on fighter planes at a naval air station in New England until the war ended. One of his brothers suffered serious injuries fighting but lived.
Lubbers said that the trip to Washington has extra meaning because, while honoring fallen soldiers, he can also celebrate the fact that nobody in his family died during the war.
"We all came home," he said. "We survived and it's remarkable that that happened."