Freedom Honor Flight’s first mission is successful on all counts

Freedom honor Flight, the first Wisconsin hub of the national Honor Flight Network, conducted its first flight on October 8, 2008. With 113 Veterans and 58 Guardians aboard the chartered 757 aircraft, it was the first Honor Flight from Wisconsin, and one of the larger single flights in the national program’s history.

The day began early, with some veterans arriving at the Colgan Air Service hangar, across from the La Crosse Municipal Airport, before 5 a.m. National Guard and UW-La Crosse ROTC members provided valet parking and golf cart shuttles for veterans and the family members who came to see them off. The veterans checked in and were united with their guardians. These specially trained volunteers, who each paid their own way for the honor of accompanying the veterans, were with the veterans for the entire day.

The morning send off ceremony included an ecumenical prayer, a Marine Corps Color Guard, a children’s concert by the Northwoods Elementary School choir, a continental breakfast and decorations from multiple schools in La Crosse. The French Island Legion hosted a breakfast for family and volunteers after the jet departed.

The Honor Flight arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport to a water cannon salute. Veterans moved directly to chartered buses that took them to the WWII memorial. The veterans toured that memorial, plus the Korean and Vietnam War memorials and the Iwo Jima memorial. Veterans from nine states were represented in Washington D.C., bringing close to 1,000 veterans to the memorials in one day. Freedom Honor Flight was the largest group that day and the largest in the program’s history.

When the veterans returned to La Crosse late that evening, they were greeted by a large flag-waving crowd and the performing UW-La Crosse Screaming Eagles Marching Band. Veterans from the trip spoke of the day as being “absolutely wonderful” and “the trip of a lifetime.”

A second flight is planned for June 2009 and donations are needed to ensure as many veterans as possible are able to go. The group receives no government funding and depends on donations, which are tax deductible to the full extent of the law. Veterans who wish to apply may contact their local veterans association, call 608-784-1015 or complete the application form on this website. People wishing to volunteer or apply to be a trained guardian to accompany the veterans on the flight can find more information on this website or call 608-784-1015. And people who wish to donate may do so directly on this page.

Freedom Honor Flight exists to fly veterans, for free, to Washington D.C. to see “their” memorials. Currently, priority is given to World War II veterans, because of their advanced age, and because so many of them have never had a chance to see the WWII Memorial, which was opened in April of 2004. Veterans are selected on a first come, first served basis with priority given to WWII veterans and any veteran with a terminal illness.