More than 100 people gathered on Sunday afternoon at Montana State University Billings' downtown campus to finalize their travel plans for the inaugural Big Sky Honor Flight, which will take more than 90 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., from June 15-16.
"We want to thank all of you for your service as you served us in World War II," said Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, a member of the flight's committee.
The gathered veterans and family and committee members, along with their counterparts in Missoula via conference call, went over basic details of the trip, such as what time to get to the airport, what to pack and how the schedule would run.
While the details of that meeting may have been a bit ordinary and mundane, the effort to get the program off the ground, and its purpose, is anything but.
It will take 164 people, 94 of them veterans, to the nation's capitol to visit numerous memorials, including the Lincoln, Korean War and Vietnam memorials and the Arlington National Cemetery. But it will be highlighted by a visit to the World War II memorial.
"I think it's just wonderful, a wonderful program," said Jim Ramsey, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force during the war. "I just don't have enough good things to say about it. It's so well-organized."
The entire trip is free for those going, and it is the first time the program has been done in Montana. The Big Sky Honor Flight committee had to raise $152,000 in donations to pay for it.
Beth Bouley, a mentor for the Montana program who has been involved in seven such flights in North Dakota, said officials at Billings Logan International Airport have made special accommodations for the veterans.
"What they've done at the airport, very kindly, is they've really juggled everything for us," she said. "They are really doing everything they can to accommodate us."
That includes working with the Transportation Security Administration to make sure the group doesn't have to go through a security checkpoint, having a special ticket booth just for them and providing wheelchairs at the airport, if necessary.
They'll take a charter flight to D.C. to kick off the trip. Kennedy said they hope to have a second flight ready to go by the fall and possibly a third by the end of the year.
"We look forward to showing you a trip that will be a lasting memory for you and your families," he said.