Honor Flight 11 brings vets to D.C.

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A sea of local residents turned out at Stewart to honor hometown
veterans

STEWART AIRPORT – The Stewart Airport terminal departure area was
wall to wall people as hundreds came out to cheer veterans who were treated
to a day in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

It was the 11th Honor Flight – in the Hudson Valley those trips
depart alternately from Stewart at Newburgh and Westchester County Airport
at White Plains.

This latest flight included 82 veterans from World War II and the Korean
War.

A primary focus of the Hudson Valley Honor Flight organization, in addition
to bringing vets who might otherwise have trouble getting to D.C. to visit
their monuments, is to provide veterans with a grand reception; one they
certainly deserve but, in some cases, had never received.
These are some of the responses veterans gave as they were about to board
their flight to Washington.

Nick Viola, a WWII combat veteran: “Marvelous. Family is here; you
guys are all here helping us celebrate. My goodness, what a real surprise.
I heard about it and of course, I’m so thankful and grateful I’m
here.”

Marvin Needleman, a WWII Army veteran: “Doing great,” “very
excited.”

Al Hubner, a WWII veteran of the 94th Infantry Division: “I didn’t
expect such a reception here!”

Donald Katey, also a WWII veteran: “I waited for this. I never knew
we were going to get any appreciation for what we did. Oh yeah, I’ve
been in tears all day.”

It’s no secret that the population of WWII veterans, in particular,
is dwindling. Hudson Valley Honor Flight Chairman Frank Kimler said although
many national honor flight organizations have had less than half of their
passengers as WWII vets and in some cases have stopped looking to find
WWII vets at all for flights, Hudson Valley Honor Flight is still continuing
to have their majority of passengers from WWII.

Many of these WWII veterans are well into their 90s now and that is why
Kimler said it is so important to continue to seek out and to bring members
of the “Greatest Generation” on Honor Flights.

“These guys, a lot of them, haven’t left their house in a
long time. No one has talked to them in a while. They live in nursing
homes, some of them. And so, to be treated like this and honored, they
go back and they don’t forget this. I mean, they don’t sleep;
they’re so excited,” said Kimler. “It’s funny,
on every flight back, there’s not one veteran that sleeps. Sometimes,
their grandkids will go and they’ll be sleeping but, the veterans
never fall asleep. They’re pumped,” he said.

The Hudson Valley Honor Flights have been such a success, growing and
evolving with each flight, that the organization has expanded their efforts
from hosting one flight a year initially to four flights a year currently
and are even planning to schedule a fifth one. HV Honor Flight Co-chairman
Brian Maher said they were not expecting this evolution and see now that
they are creating a culture for those who want to give back to veterans.

“We didn’t expect that the impact would be so strong on non-veterans;
on, not the individuals that we’re serving: the Korea, WWII, Vietnam
veterans, but their families and their friends and the people that need
an outlet to be patriots, to thank veterans for their service. The way
our organization has branded itself, we’ve reached out through social
media, through the news outlets and really got our message out there saying,
‘This organization is for anyone who wants to give back and honor
our veterans.’ So, we kind of created a culture, if you will, where
you shake a veteran’s hand and you say, ‘Thank you for your
service’ and then you ask them, ‘Have you ever heard of the
Hudson Valley Honor Flight?’ and we keep those conversations going
every day,” said Maher.

The flights, however, are expensive, costing about $65,000-$100,000 per
flight.

Saturday, Shop Rite made a surprise donation of $100,000 to the organization
toward that end.

Hudson Valley Honor Flight will hold their 12th journey out of Westchester
Airport on May 14 and will be honoring their 1,000th veteran served on
September 10 for their 13th flight, which will be at Stewart again.