There will come a time in the foreseeable future when there will be no World War II veterans left standing neither in this country nor the world. The war will live on in hundreds and hundreds of films, recordings and books and in thousands upon thousands of personal letters photographs and stories.
But for the moment many of those who served, albeit their ranks are depleting daily, are still with us. It’s not too late to say thank you or to honor what they have done.
Retired Providence Fire Chief George Farrell is doing that with the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs Honor Flight, an organization he formed barely more than a year ago. Farrell vision was simple and compelling – bring World War II veterans to Washington for them to see the memorial built in their honor. Farrell is the right man for the job.
He knows how to tackle the logistics of transporting scores of elderly people who should be monitored nearly every moment of their trip. More important to the success of the operation, his contacts are extensive and his passion for the mission is contagious.
Farrell’s network of retired and active firefighters is the core of a team that keeps expanding. If he doesn’t personally know the officials who can open doors whether here or in Washington, then those in his ranks do.
The first of the honor flights was conducted almost a year ago. To do it, Farrell spoke before service organizations and turned to whatever resources he could think of to raise enough money so that every veteran could make the trip at no cost. Guardians who accompanied each veteran paid their own way.
It didn’t stop there. Another Honor Flight following this May and the flight this past Saturday was the largest yet. A total of 59 veterans and their escorts gathered at Station 8 on Post Road long before dawn to be transported to Green Airport where they were met by police and fire honor guards, bagpipe and drums corps, Boy Scouts and applauding friends and family. At nearly the same time, groups of World War II veterans and their guardians arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport and at Islip Airport on Long Island. All 191 veterans joined in Baltimore to be bused to Washington.
These were not separate efforts. It all started here. The ranks of those assisting have grown exponentially thanks to Ocean State Job Lot, its staff and its customers.
Marc Pearlman, the company’s president, launched the campaign to have customers donate to the cause and committed to make up whatever the difference was to pay for veterans and their guardians.
Honor Flight has arrived.
Farrell has rallied the help and the resources in perhaps far greater numbers than he imagined possible. He has developed the contacts to make it run smoothly and he has the protocols to ensure the comfort and safety of those who so richly deserve the honor.
The measure of Honor Flight reaches far beyond the numbers of veterans, although each of them is important and it is rewarding to know they have visited the memorial. Honor Flight reminds us of a generation of Americans and the sacrifices they made, but most of all it’s a salute to those who served to preserve our freedoms before they leave us.