The 91 World War II veterans heading to Washington, D.C., later this month for the fourth Big Sky Honor Flight won't have to pay a cent for the trip, but that doesn't mean it's cheap getting them there.
Each trip costs about $155,000 to fly, house and feed the veterans on their trip to visit the war memorials honoring them. While the May 19 trip is paid for, the fifth one, scheduled for June, is still in need of some funding.
So when the effort's committee announced at Sunday's preflight meeting four donations totaling $26,300, it came as a welcome surprise.
"We have a lot of generous folks across the state of Montana and especially in this community," said Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, who sits on the Big Sky Honor Flight board.
Walleyes Unlimited, with the help of a handful of other local businesses, cut a check for $10,000 toward the effort. Member Bob Klein was one of a half-dozen people to present the check.
He said they raised the money through auctions and donations from a handful of other businesses in the area, as well as from their own accounts.
"Even though we're a fishing organization, we feel strongly that we should support the community," Klein said. "It was a no-brainer."
Other donations at the meeting included $6,100 from a Town Square Media fundraiser through DJ Livin' Large Larry, $5,000 from the Association of Credit Unions, $3,200 from Billings Caledonian Pipes and Drums and $2,000 from the Laurel Senior Citizens Center.
A representative from the Marine Corps League also detailed how they quickly raised about $2,900 through trio of short, easy fundraisers.
Kennedy said all of the money will go to the June flight, and each flight is funded almost entirely through donations.
"This is not government money, and all of this is raised in the private sector and through various groups," he said.
Each flight flies WWII veterans to the nation's capital to visit the memorials built in honor of the soldiers who fought in the war, as well as to see memorials from other wars.
The May 19 flight will take 91 Montana veterans and will return May 20.
Sunday's meeting, at Montana State University Billings' downtown campus, brought in many of those veterans to go over the final details of the trip.
Klein said members of Walleyes Unlimited came up with the idea of raising money for Big Sky Honor Flight after the group brought eight WWII veterans who'd taken one of the earlier flights to a banquet in March.
After hearing their stories, it was an easy decision.
"Without their sacrifices, we wouldn't have the freedoms we enjoy here today," Klein said.