Tony Lamanna’s first idea was to donate a hundred bucks to Honor Flight after the Spokane police officer heard about the national organization.
His second idea was to start a local Honor Flight chapter.
That was back in 2009. Inland Northwest Honor Flight has now escorted more than 800 veterans from all over the region to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials.
Lamanna has traveled with every one of the 24 groups from this area.
“I was just curious about them,” he said recently of his initial investigation into Honor Flight. “I’m very obsessed with World War II history and veterans.”
The Inland Northwest community has been “incredibly generous” to the organization, he said, enabling Honor Flight to charter flights this year for the first time and triple the number of vets who can take part.
The charters have helped the Inland Northwest chapter whittle the number of World War II vets on the waiting list to about 20, Lamanna said. There are about 60 veterans of the Korean War on that list and a handful from the Vietnam War. Honor Flight gives priority to vets based on their age and health, and says it will try to serve any veteran who can get to Spokane to travel with the group.
Vets pay nothing for the two-day trip; chaperones, who are often family members and are called guardians, pay their own way.
Lamanna said every trip is full of emotional moments, but one stands out to him: “We were in the Baltimore airport and this gentleman with a heavy European accent went up to one of our guys and said, ‘Thank you – you liberated my father from a concentration camp.’ ”
He added, “Every flight to me is like the first flight, with the excitement.”