This Saturday nearly 600 World War II veterans, their guardians, active duty military personnel, medical personnel, and other guests from New England and New York will travel to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial. It is the largest, single Honor Flight tour of its kind in the history of the Honor Flight program.
Thanks to Ocean State Job Lot’s Charitable Foundation and the generosity of its customers who made donations at the retailer’s 110 stores throughout the region, the daylong trip comes at no cost to the veterans or their families and enables elderly World War II veterans to visit their memorial, which was dedicated in 2004, for the first time.
“It’s our way of giving the recognition and respect that we think these veterans deserve,” Marc Perlman, owner/partner of Ocean State Job Lot, said in a statement. “This trip, with chartered airplanes leaving from three different airports, brings veterans from all military service branches together along with their guardians, and marks the largest group of its kind ever to assemble at the World War II Memorial.”
Known as Operation: Gratitude 2013, three Southwest Airlines charters will leave T.F. Green, MacArthur (Islip, N.Y.) and Logan (Boston) airports, respectively, early Saturday morning, arriving at BWI Airport in Baltimore. From there, the honorees will travel by bus to the Memorial and, if time, to other sites as well before enjoying a special dinner in their honor at the Airport Hilton in Baltimore.
Established in 2004, the Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans, transporting them to Washington, D.C. at no cost to them to visit and reflect at their memorials. The program was conceived in Springfield, Ohio by Earl Morse, a physician assistant, private pilot and retired Air Force captain who wanted to honor the veterans he had cared for. At that time, the World War II Memorial had just been completed in D.C., yet many veterans were in their 80s and lacked the physical, mental and financial resources to visit it on their own. The first Honor Flight tour was made in 2005. Thereafter, a network of participating programs called hubs formed across America in order to pool resources, experiences and alliances to get veterans to their memorial safely. Presently, there are 127 hubs in 41 states. The three hubs participating in Operation: Gratitude 2013 are Honor Flight New England, Honor Flight Rhode Island (supported by the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs) and Honor Flight Long Island.
“Of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation, and as a culturally diverse, free society,” Earl Morse, founder of Honor Flight, said in a statement. “The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 640 World War II veterans die each day. Our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out. We thank Ocean State Job Lot for their generosity in keeping our group’s mission alive and bringing honor to their service.”