Plans, two years in the making, came to fruition in October 2011 when Montana became the 40th state to activate a chapter of the Honor Flight Network to pay homage to the nation’s World War II veterans.
Big Sky Honor Flight made its inaugural flight to Washington, D.C., in June with 96 World War II veterans and one terminally ill Vietnam veteran aboard.
Big Sky Honor Flight has pledged to continue taking trips to Washington, D.C., until all World War II veterans in the state have made the trek — or at least had the opportunity.
Some 16.1 million Americans served in uniform during World War II. The youngest of those veterans still living are now in their mid-80s.
There are 18,000 World War II veterans in Montana. Based on 2008 statistics, World War II veterans are dying nationally at the rate of about 900 per day.
The purpose of Big Sky Honor Flight is to transport these veterans to the nation’s capital free of charge. The chartered flight will cost about $152,000 and will be paid for with donations.
To date, 67,000 veterans have traveled to the capital to see the World War II Memorial that was erected in their honor and dedicated in May 2004.
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Ohio. Morse is also a retired Air Force captain and private pilot and wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for nearly three decades.
Many did not have the financial means, strength or stamina to go, so Morse decided to help.
As interest swelled, Morse enlisted help from other private pilots. Word spread with more veterans wanting to participate and the Honor Flight Network was born.
The first Honor Flight took place in May of 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio taking 12 World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, D.C.