VICTOR — Seventy-one World War II and Korean War veterans will soon get to take a life-changing, all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. to see the national memorials that were built in their honor.
That’s thanks to more than $37,000 in generous gifts this spring from Victor businesses and service groups, the Alex P. Davis Casino Night fundraiser, the Victor American Legion James T. Cooke Post 931 and members of the Victor community.
Victor’s seventh annual Week for Honor Flight, held May 4 through 11, again exceeded expectations, according to event organizer and Victor Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Mike Stockman, who presented a check to Honor Flight Rochester at a Town Board meeting June 25.
“In 2012 we hoped we could raise $500 to send one veteran to Washington, D.C., but we raised $6,050, and that’s the lowest total we’ve had so far,” Stockman told board members and a sea of Honor Flight orange-shirted veterans Monday night.
To date, the annual event has raised about $115,500 for Honor Flight Rochester, including this year’s grand total of $20,447.90.
Twenty-eight Victor businesses and service organizations participated in Week for Honor Flight, Stockman said, and he read off each name Monday to emphasize the community-wide involvement.
The annual fundraiser is completely reliant on the muscle power of service agencies, businesses, their customers and area residents, Stockman said.
“As we progress through the years, it’s about the money we raise, but I want more people to participate and find out about what Honor Flight does for our veterans. For me it’s a movement, it’s about letting people know what a great organization it is and letting guys and gals (know that they are) our heroes.”
Stockman has flown on two of Honor Flight’s missions as a guardian for traveling veterans, and can attest to the life-changing impact it has on all participants.
Honor Flight Rochester is a completely volunteer-led, volunteer-driven nonprofit. So 100 percent of all donations fund veterans’ travel, safety and experience enrichment needs. Each non-veteran who travels is a volunteer and pays his or her own expenses in exchange for the honor of accompanying their veteran.
Bob Davis also presented a check for $15,011, which was raised at the Victor American Legion-sponsored Alex P. Davis Casino Night held earlier this spring. The contribution was made in memory of his late son, whose life was deeply impacted by members of the American Legion Post 931.
Legion members also contributed another $1,500 to Honor Flight.
And there’s clearly no doubt among veterans that the money is well spent.
After Victor Korean War veteran Jim Beebe and his granddaughter returned from their trip to Washington, he was immediately inspired to step up and volunteer so others could experience what he had.
“I gotta volunteer,” he said in his phone call to Honor Flight Rochester organizers. “I don’t care what I do, but I’ve gotta volunteer.”
Honor Flight Rochester President and Director Rich Stewart said the non-profit started exactly 10 years ago “with an eye toward World War II veterans, but now the scope has been widened to include Korean and Vietnam war veterans.”
“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said Monday. “We literally are closing in on 500 veterans we still need to take on our Honor Flights. Your funding is so important and so welcome.”
Victor Supervisor Jack Marren chose to spend this Father’s Day at Greater Rochester International Airport, welcoming home Honor Flight veterans from a recent mission.
“He’s been gone 21 years,” said Marren of his father. “What better way to remember him? I wanted to see my father through the eyes of individuals returning. I encourage any one of you to take that opportunity and see one of these missions returning. It’s a powerful, powerful morning — it gets to your heart.
“Unfortunately, we as Americans get busy in our lives and we remember veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and that’s about it,” said Marren. “This is a wonderful opportunity to remember all of you every single day.”
Honor Flight Rochester has completed 60 missions and will lead three more in the fall.
“We’ll surpass 3,000 veterans this fall,” said Stewart. “And it’s with support from Victor (and other donors) that we’ve been able to make that happen. We’re so, so grateful.”
Honor Flight is a “real tangible way for the younger generation to say thank you to the more senior generations — their fathers and grandfathers,” Stewart said.
So who’s eligible to travel with Honor Flight?
“I served in the mid 50s,” said Stewart. “I never left the States, I never got shot at, but our definition is, ‘if you served and you’re honorably discharged, you helped save lives.’ And if you helped save lives, in my definition that’s being a hero.
“So to all the veterans who stepped up and did their part, thank you and you’re heroes,” added Stewart. “You’re so worthy to go on Honor Flight. You’re so worthy to bask in the reverence and the awesome power of those memorials in DC. That’s America at its best.”