The Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs has generously volunteered to give World War II veterans in the state the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C, as part of the Honor Flights program.
This Saturday, 10 local veterans will be picked up by a bus at 5 a.m. from Fire Station 8 on Post Road, where they will then be transported to the airport in order to catch a commercial Southwest Airlines flight to Baltimore at 7:25 a.m. From there, they will take another bus to the nation’s capital, where they will begin their sightseeing.
Rhode Island will be joining a list of 43 other states that have offered Honor Flights to veterans in years past. Started in 2005, Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created “solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices.” Regular trips to Washington, D.C. are scheduled, with older veterans and ones who are terminally ill having first priority. The organization places a special emphasis on recognizing World War II veterans, as their numbers grow smaller with each passing day. A “Stars and Stripes Honor Flight” out of Wisconsin and a “Southeast Florida Honor Flight” will also be flying to D.C. Nov. 3. The Southwest flights are both commercial ones, with other passengers expected to be on board.
The Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs (RIAFC), based out of Cumberland, has taken it upon themselves to cover the majority of the trip’s expenses, including airplane tickets and meals. Ocean State Job Lot has helped contribute supplies and expenses.
Chief George Farrell, president of RIAFC, has helped put together the entire trip, which involved forming a charitable petition to have RIAFC host the trip. He is a strong advocate of the program, as he notes the personal impact a trip of this nature can have on many of the veterans.
“For a lot of the veterans, this is the first opportunity to discuss the war with other people who were there,” he said.
“A lot of people returned from the war, got married, found jobs and started their own families. There was little discussion of the war. That was then. They just didn’t talk about it back then.”
Farrell’s father is a World War II veteran, who he says never discussed the war during his childhood, as did many others.
The trip’s primary destination is to the National World War II Memorial, which has a Rhode Island affiliation of its own, designed by architect Friedrich St. Florian, a former RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] faculty member. The group will attempt to visit as many of the other memorials in D.C., including the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is the other major destination on the trip, with the opportunity for veterans to witness the Changing of the Guard, which, between the months of October and April, occurs once every hour on the hour.
Each veteran will be accompanied by a personal guardian, volunteering on their own time, helping out with any assistance they may need. Ten wheelchairs have been ordered due to the length of the trip and the amount of walking that is expected over the course of the day. Farrell joked that certain veterans claimed that they won’t need wheelchairs, but he went ahead and ordered them anyway just in case they prove themselves wrong. The majority of the guardians, whose applications were approved by Farrell, are current or former fire chiefs, who have high levels of experience in first aid and other forms of assistance. Farrell doesn’t expect any issues to arise during the trip but said he feels confident with the guardians on hand that they can handle anything that comes their way.
There will be 10 World War II veterans in total on the trip, with Lucy Amat as the only female. Also making the trip are George F. Barber of Exeter and Reginald Hazard of Wakefield, who will be joined by his son. The youngest veteran going on the Honor Flight is reported to be 87, reaffirming the belief that opportunities like these will not be around forever. The entire trip will take place over the course of one day, with the group expected to return to T.F. Green Airport at approximately 10 p.m.
Farrell currently has 21 applications for Honor Flights on his desk, which he hopes will allow for the program to remain in the future. For the time being, he is most focused on seeing this year’s through as a success.
“We want to get one under our belt,” he said.
His goal for next year is to take as many people as possible, citing the low number of World War II veterans who are still alive as a reason to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“Unfortunately time is not on our side,” he said.
A large determining factor regarding the future of Honor Flights in Rhode Island lies in the hands of donors, who Farrell strongly encourages to contribute to what he calls a “once in a lifetime experience” for some.