Southampton-based nonprofit Honor Flight Long Island (HFLI) will resume June 4 flying U.S. military veterans for free biannually to visit their war memorials in Washington, D.C., ending a two-year pandemic-induced pause.
Booked for the flight are 40 veterans — 37 of the Vietnam War and three of World War II — to visit their military memorials, meet with service branch representatives, and commemorate their duty with other veterans.
“What this flight really represents is a big hug to all our veterans from Honor Flight, their families and supporters who make such flights possible,” said HFLI President Bill Jones.
Honor Flight Long Island
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 $400 tax-deductible donations and sponsorships.
The Long Island chapter has flown nearly 2,000 vets since 2007, halted flights when COVID-19 hit and took a smaller-than-usual group of WWII vets last year before gearing up for its regular schedule.
After visiting the memorials, local dignitaries, supporters and music will welcome returning veterans upon their arrival at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, as is tradition.
“This will help give them the welcome back they never got,” said Bill Donahue, an HFLI board member.
The excitement has been building since before the pandemic, noted Jamie Bowden, HFLI’s secretary.
“Some Vietnam veterans have been on the waitlist since 2016,” said Bowden. “Everybody is so excited.”
One moment that encapsulated the significance of the trips for Donahue came when a group of Girl Scouts approached a veteran he was accompanying, thanked the veterans for their service, shook their hands and asked, “Did you fight in the Atlantic or Pacific?”
The question stunned the veteran — who did not expect younger generations to know and care about their stories — was brought to tears. “I did not think we had it in us,” Donahue recalled the veteran saying.
“These unscripted, unscheduled moments make it all worth it,” said Donahue. “Veterans go in without any expectations and are thrilled.”
To help keep the flights going, HFLI is hosting its Listen To The Wind fundraiser gala on July 16 to honor the service of U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Evelyn Kandel.
HFLI is currently accepting applications for veterans from World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as any other veteran facing terminal illness. Applications to serve as a guardian are open as well.
For tickets or to learn more about Honor Flight Long Island, donate, or apply, visit their website, honorflightlongisland.org