In the amount of time it took to brush your teeth this morning a World War II veteran passed away from old age. Now well into their 80s and 90s, the men and women who fought and won the Great Conflict are dying at the rate of more than 800 a day. That’s approximately one every two minutes.
At one time, there were more than 15 million WWII veterans in the United States. That number has now dwindled to a little more than a million and the median age of a World War II vet is now 92.
It is estimated by the US Veterans Administration that by 2036, there will be no living WWII veterans left to tell their stories of the sights, sounds, victories and horrors of the deadliest war in world history.
Regrettably, many will also never get the opportunity to personally view the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. that was dedicated in 2004 to the men and women who fought and died in World War II.
That is why the work being done by North Country Honor Flight should be recognized and lauded.
An arm of the national not-for-profit Honor Flight Network, the group was formed in March 2012 by Keeseville resident Danny Kaifetz with the goal of flying North Country WWII veterans to see the War II Memorial in Washington D.C.
The premise is simple. Many WWII vets do not have the finances or physical wherewithal to make the trip to D.C. In many cases, friends and family also lack the resources and time to complete the three-to four-day trip by vehicle to the nation’s capital.
With that in mind, North Country Honor Flight offers free transportation and airfare to and from the memorial. Accompanying the veterans are guardians who assist with the trip and the bus transporting them to Albany airport is flanked by veteran groups like the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, the Patriot Guard and the Legion Riders.
While in Albany, they are joined by other Honor Flight groups and treated to a heroes send-off, including crowds cheering and waving, a performance by a military band and speeches from dignitaries.
Signs held up by the crowd read: ”God bless WWII vets,” and “One last mission.”
Then, the veterans board a plane for their all-expense-paid trip to the memorial in Washington D.C. For many it is their one and only chance to witness the tribute that was erected in their honor.
Dozens of veterans from throughout the circulation area of Denton Publications have already taken advantage of the chance to see the memorial. A group flew out May 18 and another this past Saturday, June 8.
All say they relished the opportunity.
In a letter to the editor, WWII veteran Robert Savarie of Olmstedville said it was an incredibly emotional experience.
“(It) was an emotional experience as memories of D-Day, Anzio, Battle of the Bulge, Midway, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and so many other battlefields were brought to mind,” he said.
Other veterans like William H. Thompson of Willsboro, Alfred Kurtz of Elizabethtown and Ralph Filion of Plattsburgh all said they were honored by the gesture made by North Country Honor Flight and the outpouring of support they received from members of the community.
Family members that accompanied the veterans had similar sentiments.
Filion’s daughter, Michelle Filion-Schon, drove to Plattsburgh from Pottstown, Pa., to join her father on the flight.
“I think this could very well be the best day of both of our lives,” Filion-Schon said. “I’m so blessed to be there with him when he sees the memorial for the first time. This is the first time he’s ever been appreciated as a veteran.”
Let’s hope it won’t be his last.
Approximately 16 million men and women served in the U.S. military during WWII. By the time WWII ended in 1945, Nearly 420,000 United States soldiers lost their lives — another 670,000 were wounded.
In the eight years it has been in existence, the national Honor Flight Network has transported more than 98,500 WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial. The program has 121 hubs in 41 states, including the North Country Honor Flight based in Keeseville.
The argument can certainly be made that no other war in our nation’s history was as influential in keeping our country, values and way of life intact as the Great Conflict.
We owe an immeasurable amount of gratitude to the men and women who fought in WWII to keep this nation free for this generation and more importantly for future generations.
But saying so is just lip service.
The people who volunteer their time to organizations like North Country Honor Flight are walking the walk.
For more information on North Country Honor Flight or to donate to the cause, visit northcountryhonorflight.org.