In the pre-dawn hours Sunday, 87 World War II veterans will gather at Billings Logan International Airport, bound for the nation’s capital where they can get some closure.
The veterans range in age from 82 to 96. Five of the 87 veterans are women.
At 5:45 a.m., the veterans will begin preparing to board a private, chartered Sun Country flight to see the National World War II Memorial. The veterans are the third tour of Big Sky Honor Flight of Montana making the trip to Washington, D.C.
On two separate flights last year, 271 Montana veterans made the trek to the memorial. One was a terminally ill Vietnam veteran; the others were World War II veterans.
Accompanying the veterans will be members of the all-volunteer Big Sky Honor Flight Committee, seven emergency medical response staff and numerous helpers. In addition, some family members will accompany the veterans on their nonstop, 36-hour sightseeing tour of war memorials.
In addition to seeing the sights and visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the trip provides the veterans with a sense of camaraderie. Each of them lived through one of the deadliest conflicts in American history. The trip will serve as a mini reunion.
Staff from the Billings and Washington, D.C., offices of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., will be on hand in Billings to send them off and in Washington to greet them. In addition, Baucus and his wife, Mel, will be at the National World War II Memorial on Monday to greet the veterans.
Staff members from the offices of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., will serve as greeters in both Washington and in Billings. Staff members from both offices also are scheduled to be at the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to the men and women.
The trip is designed as a way for veterans to pay tribute to their family members, friends, neighbors or complete strangers who did not come home, the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
For some of them, this trip will ultimately put them at peace with the war, organizers said.