By Maren McInnes
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — During House floor time on Feb. 18, six World War II veterans wheeled and walked in as every member of the house arose in honor of their service. Rep. Lee Perry, R-Box Elder, presented the vets and Utah’s Honor Flight Program with a joint, official citation from the Utah House and Senate.
Each year, the Honor Flight takes vets on a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. to “connect veterans with the memorials that were erected in their honor,” read Perry from the citation. In addition to honoring veterans, this citation honors the individuals who make the Honor Flight possible. “It’s just amazing, the people in our community that have come forward to help with this process,” Perry said. It costs about $900 per veteran and generous donors sponsor the flights so the veterans pay nothing.
One donor, who was honored as part of the program, is only 11. Cameron Buckley, from West Haven, Utah, was watching the KSL Veteran’s Day Special when he heard about the Honor Flight. He has family members who serve in the military, and he decided that he wanted to sponsor two veterans. His sister, Brandee, said he has already raised over $1,000 through bake sales and by making quilts—so Cameron is well on his way.
The Honor Flight Program is a nationwide, non-profit organization. Utah established a branch in 2013 and since that time, Honor Flight has sponsored five major flights to D.C. with over 200 Utah veterans receiving an opportunity to visit their memorial. There are over 8,000 World War II veterans in Utah, and very few have seen the memorial. “These men and women deserve our respect. They deserve more than that. They deserve to go back and see these monuments,” said Perry.
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Davis, has sponsored several veterans in the past and said traveling with them has been one of the greatest experiences he has ever had.
“I would like to issue a challenge to this House,” Dee said. “There are many veterans in Utah who need to have this experience. . . . Wouldn’t it be great if we issued a challenge in this House to sponsor an Honor Flight from the House of Representatives? Wouldn’t that be great?”
Speaker of the House, Greg Hughes, R-Draper, accepted the challenge on behalf of House members and Dee and Perry are hopeful that all 75 members will donate.
In the past, BYU Nursing has sent students on Honor Flights to aid in the care of the aging veterans. The College of Nursing will be sponsoring a flight this coming May.
Honor Flight “is the finest organization I’ve ever been a part of,” said Craig Johnson, a volunteer who has been working with the non-profit for a year. His grandfather, father, and brother were all in the military, and he wanted to do something worthy of their service.
“It’s about the veterans. And when we say we’re taking these veterans out to see their memorial, we say that very purposefully. It is their memorial,” said Johnson, and the Honor Flight was created to show “a small sliver of gratitude. ”
Dee told the representatives about one vet, Fred Roberts, who served in the Navy and sailed on the U.S.S. Putnam into Tokyo Bay the morning of the Japanese surrender. Dee grew emotional as he spoke about his experience talking with the veteran.
“It was a joy,” Roberts said of the flight he took in September. “It was so well planned.” After the honor was presented, Roberts smiled as he shook the hand of grateful representatives and volunteers.
“I know we’ve got a lot of important business to take care of but if we can’t take a break to honor people like this, our priorities are messed up,” Perry said.
“They were once called the greatest generation,” Dee added. “They are still the greatest generation.”
To donate to Utah’s Honor Flight, visit http://www.utahhonorflight.org