WALDEN — The Hudson Valley Honor Flight established its headquarters in Walden after 23 missions to Washington, D.C. with veterans from World War II and the Korean War.
This opening comes as the organization will launch its 24th flight on October 12, which will feature Vietnam War veterans for the first time.
The headquarters will be located in a building owned by accountant Ray Lustig, whose father was a World War II veteran.
Board chairman Frank Klimer spoke to the significance of the flights for the thousands of veterans who have taken them.
“Honor Flight is about all of us, and there are no better patriots than those in the Hudson Valley,” he said. “The success of honor flight is a testament to our community. It’s always been about all of us pulling together to honor our most treasured neighbors.”
Executive Director Jennifer DeFrancesco described the excitement she feels when veterans submit their application for a flight.
“I love having the veterans who stop in to pick up their applications and those who drop off their applications who start telling me their stories,” she said.
Some of those stories were shared by veterans in attendance who have gone on the flight.
Korean War veteran Donald Blaine got emotional when talking about his experience.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “I get a lump in my throat.”
Norman Sivertsen, who served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, called the flight “the best thing ever. It’s everlasting in your mind,” he said. “It’s something you will never forget.”
Mike Curtis, who flew on the 19th mission of Hudson Valley Honor Flight, spoke about his flight to the crowd at the grand opening.
“It was just one of the greatest experiences a person could ever have,” he said. “I’m grateful to all the people at Hudson Valley Honor Flight for their dedication, go get ‘em.”
New York State Senator James Skoufis and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney attended the event and praised Hudson Valley Honor Flight for putting in funds to send local veterans on a life-changing trip to the capital city of the United States.
“This new home is a well-suited home for Hudson Valley Honor Flight. They deserve this kind of space to continue to do the work that they do,” he said.
“The Honor Flight does amazing work bringing our veterans to Washington. So many World War II veterans are passing on, and this is a way of saying ‘thank you.’ If people don’t know about the Honor Flight, they should check it out and get involved,” Skoufis said.
Fresh on the minds of many was the recent death of retired State Senator William Larkin, who served during World War II. Both Skoufis—who holds his seat—and Maloney shared their words on what the late senator would have thought if he were alive to see this event.
“These are the type of moments Bill Larkin lived for,” said Skoufis. “No one can fill Bill Larkin’s shoes when it comes to supporting our veterans.”
“Bill would’ve loved it,” said Maloney. “I was with Senator Larkin at so many Honor Flight sendoffs. He was a great guy.”
Hudson Valley Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that transports military veterans to Washington, D.C. as part of a network of 100 nonprofits across the country. These flights are funded by local sponsors, including ShopRite, who has been working with the organization for 10 years.