The Inland Northwest Honor Flight chapter will fly 37 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., on Friday for a tour of memorials.
The vets mostly are from Eastern Washington and North Idaho and are in their mid-’80s to mid-’90s. They represent “quite the cross-section” of military service, said chapter President Tony Lamanna.
He said they include bomber crewmen, some former prisoners of war and at least one veteran who participated in the D-Day offensive.
One who now lives in Leavenworth, Wash., was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and lost about 100 pounds in as many days, Lamanna said.
“To sit down and talk to those guys would just bring you to tears most of the time,” said chapter Secretary Tim Moses.
Yet the World War II veterans he has talked to insist they just did what they had to do and are not heroes, Moses said.
He and Lamanna beg to differ.
“Since I was a kid, these people have been my heroes,” Lamanna said. “I never felt that just saying ‘thank you’ was enough, and I always wanted to do something to give back to them.”
That’s why Moses, a Spokane police patrolman, rounded up four fellow Spokane Police Department officers to establish a regional Honor Flight chapter last spring: Cpl. Nick Lundgren; Sgt. Justin Lundgren, Nick’s brother; Cpl. Mike McNab; and Moses.
McNab is the group’s only veteran.
“It’s just a labor of love for us,” said Moses.
The Honor Flight veterans will view the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and visit the World War II, Lincoln, Korean War, Vietnam War, Navy, Air Force and Iwo Jima memorials.
“Those are the major ones that we always hit without fail,” Moses said.
Friday’s trip will be the second large-group flight for the chapter since it was chartered last May, and at least three more trips are planned this summer.
“I think we’re well on our way to getting over 240 of them there this year,” Lamanna said.
The timing is urgent. Many of the World War II veterans are still in good health, but the war ended almost 65 years ago.
Lamanna said 10 vets on the Honor Flight waiting list have died while waiting for a trip. Three who were scheduled to go in June have died, including two last weekend.
Once all the World War II vets have had their flights, the organization plans to begin taking veterans from other wars.
The nonprofit organization uses donations, including airfare from Southwest Airlines and a recent $10,000 contribution from Rosauers Supermarkets, to pay all expenses for the veterans except transportation to and from the Spokane airport.
Each group of 35 or so veterans costs the chapter $10,000 to $12,000 for lodging, meals and tour buses.
Family members and volunteers who go along to help the veterans – at least one for every three vets – pay $600 for their airfare and lodging. There will be 20 helpers on Friday’s flight.