Honor Flight Long Island, a Southampton-based nonprofit that flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials to the wars in which they fought, resumed its first flight since 2019 last month.
Nine World War II veterans — eight men and a woman — embarked on the group’s first trip since the national Honor Flight Network lifted in August the hold on its usually biannual flights that was enacted due to the coronavirus pandemic last year.
“We try to get these veterans to see their memorial before it’s too late,” says William Donahue, an organizer with the group who’s flown on more than two dozen honor flights since he began volunteering a decade ago. “It’s a great, great day. These veterans really have no expectation of it.”
The program, which launched in 2005 and has since grown into more than 100 chapters nationwide, provides veterans with an all-expense-paid day trip that is funded through donations and sponsorships. The LI chapter took its first flight in 2007.
Honor Flight LI typically flies 50 veterans per flight, each with their own Guardian — an escort, usually a family member or able-bodied volunteer who donates $400 tax deductible to offset travel costs — but the pandemic-induced hiatus generated a waiting list of nine World War II-era veterans eager to go, so the group organized a special, smaller-than-usual flight. Most were in their 90s and two were 100 years old. Upon their return at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, the veterans were welcomed by local dignitaries, supporters and music in a show of appreciation for their service, as is customary for each flight.
Honor Flight is accepting applications from veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam for its next two flights in 2022. A reunion for past participants is scheduled for December 4 at the American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale. And the group is planning a fundraiser next summer to help afford each flight, which costs $20,000 per trip.
The flights can be emotionally moving for those involved, whether they’ve served or are there as a volunteer.
“We’re entering the Vietnam phase of escorting veterans,” Donahue said. “At the World War II memorial, there’s a lot of backslapping, a lot of laughing, a lot of funny jokes. It’s a positive experience. There’s not too much crying at the World War II memorial. Vietnam memorial? There’s a lot of crying. It’s a different vibe. You don’t take selfies at the Vietnam memorial. You ask permission from the veteran to take a photo.”
To learn more about Honor Flight Long Island, to donate, or to apply for a flight, visit honorflightlongisland.org.