The veterans in the May 2018 Honor
Flight Northern Colorado contingent in front of the Lincoln Memorial. That was the Northern Colorado organization’s
next-to-last scheduled trip. The one that began Sunday is slated to be the last. (Photo courtesy of Tami Stieger.)
The veterans on the final
Honor Flight Northern Colorado saw well-wishers lining their bus route from Loveland’s Embassy Suites Hotel, adjacent
to the Budweiser Events Center, to Denver International Airport. This is an Interstate 25 overpass near Johnson’s Corner
Sunday morning. The veterans and their escorts didn’t have time to stop for cinnamon rolls. Larger groups lined
I-25 at strategic points. (Terry Frei)
When the Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. began Sunday morning with
the boarding of buses at the Embassy Suites in Loveland, then a ride to Denver International Airport, the lineup of veterans
was scheduled to be:
- 113 who served during the Vietnam War.
who served during the Korean War.
- 3 who served during World War II.
Let that last number sink in.
For many years,
we’ve heard and said it about American World War II veterans.
We’re losing them.
Those who served and fought against the forces of Germany and Japan. Before we know it, they will be gone.
Jerry, was about as young as you could be to have gone through the full and extensive World War II pilot training and a full
tour of combat duty as a P-38 reconnaissance pilot, flying alone or with one other plane over targets in advance of the bombing
runs, and he would be 94 years old today.
He died in Englewood in 2001. He never was able to go on an Honor Flight to visit the World
War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004, and other sites in the nation’s capital, and I regret that. Many other World
War II veterans didn’t get to make an Honor Flight trip, either.
Retired Army Col. Stan
Cass, founder of Honor Flight Northern Colorado, in 2017.
I am thankful and gratified that for more than 10 years, the
national Honor Flight affiliates have sent and escorted World War II veterans on these trips.
Retired Army Col. Stan Cass, a veteran
of multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, was revered in this part of the state for, among other lifetime accomplishments,
founding and overseeing Honor Flight Northern Colorado as its president until his April 14 death at age 84.
The first Honor Flight Northern
Colorado trip was in 2008.
The last Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip began Sunday. In Cass’ honor, HFNC organizers labeled this
final trip the “Mission Accomplished Stan Cass Memorial Flight.”
The planned stops on the two-day trip include the World War
II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns, the U.S. Air Force Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial,
the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial. There can be tourist-oriented flexibility, too, in
the visit to the National Mall area.
During a government shutdown
in 2013, this crowd — mostly of veterans and truckers — pushed through the barricades to visit the “closed”
World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. Those on the Honor Flight Northern Colorado make this one of their stops, too.
on the trips make contributions to Honor Flight to match their travel expenses. Often, they are relatives of the veterans.
But many have no direct connection and are acknowledging their debt and gratitude to the veterans. They deserve to be saluted,
before he died, Cass was a major force in the group decision to end Honor Flight Northern Colorado after two more trips.
of Eaton, also a Vietnam War Army veteran, was involved with Honor Flight from the start, and he succeeded Cass as the group’s
“When we started the program, the mission was to take World War II veterans back to see the memorial that was
competed in 2005, in their honor, before they passed,” Seward told me Saturday. “At the national level, people
had figured out that most of the World War II veterans were getting at a point in their lives where because of health or perhaps
because of means, they weren’t going to be able to go see this memorial that took 60 years to build.
“Stan established our
mission with Honor Flight Northern Colorado. Over the span of 10 years that we’ve been doing this program, we believe
we’ve accomplished that mission, concluding that the original goal to honor as many World War II veterans as possible
before it was too late had been met.”
Six female veterans were honored
on the May 2018 Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington, D.C. Four served in Vietnam, one in Korea and one in World
Seward again saluted Cass.
“This program’s legacy is huge in my mind,” Seward said. “You can’t
hardly go out in the public without seeing Honor Flight veterans at restaurants and other public events. I think it also has
made other veterans, even if they haven’t gone on this flight, aware and proud of their service. I see many other veterans
wearing caps acknowledging their service. I think this is all due to the fact that this program has helped the awareness of
the public understand what these ordinary people did when their country called.
“So that to me, that awareness of the public
and the ability of veterans to recognize and in many cases understand their service better than they ever have in their lives.
This is a huge, huge legacy for Colonel Cass. But it’s even more than that because I think this while idea of honoring
the veterans has made the communities and places better people. It has made me a better person. That’s all due to Colonel
Cass and his vision.”
On the May 2018 Honor
Flight Northern Colorado, Korean War veteran Donald Johnson, from Fort Collins, poses at the Korean War Memorial.
I asked if
it was viable to continue the Honor Flight concept to continue to honor veterans of other wars. By that, of course, I meant
Korea and Vietnam, but also even more recent conflicts, such as the Persian Gulf War and the global war on terrorism after
the 9/11 attacks, including in Afghanistan and the second invasion of Iraq.
“There are no memorials in Washington, D.C. for Desert
Storm and subsequent conflicts,” Seward pointed out. “At some point, perhaps there will be. But we’ve taken
close to 3,000 veterans to see the memorials, and we believe that’s a substantial accomplishment. Is it viable? I think
so. I think there is room for a program particularly for the Vietnam War veterans. We have only seven Korean War veterans
on this flight. We’re pretty much exhausted the number of Korean War veterans that want to go, too.”
However, a National Desert Storm War Memorial has been approved to be constructed
at 23rd Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington. The next step is raising the money to build it, and the National
Desert Storm War Memorial Association will lead that effort. Veterans of the Desert Storm era also will be honored.
The bronze statue at the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. A total of 3.4 million Americans were deployed to Southeast Asia and 447,434
died in battle.
With all the considerable respect to the folks who heroically stepped up, organized and participated in the Honor
Flights, why does this have to end? Vietnam veterans, mostly in their 70s, were called or volunteered to serve in an unpopular
war shunned by those with the means, connections or ingenuity to avoid service, and as I’ve discussed before, our belated gratitude often comes with a guilt chaser.
the heroic contributions of Cass and others — including current Honor Flight Northern Colorado officers Seward, Bill
Woods, Keith Thim, Matt Voris and Brad Hoopes — perhaps it’s time for others to step up.
“Ten years is a long time
and you can imagine all the people that put in such a huge effort,” Seward said. “Maybe there are enough veterans
out there to justify continuing, but that’s for another team with a specific mission to do that, for Vietnam particularly.”
On the May 2018 Honor Flight Northern
Colorado trip, veterans J.T. Tallman (Vietnam), from LaPorte, and Donald Johnson (Korea) pose at the World War II Memorial.
escorted to Washington and visiting memorials that don’t involve their own period of service acknowledges the chain
of national sacrifice.
If there are others willing to accept the torch from Stan Cass and his organization, a rebooted Honor Flight
— whether still called that or given a new name — should be allowed to fly on.
P-38 pilot Jerry Frei, who flew a full tour
of duty in the four-year gap between his sophomore and junior seasons as a Wisconsin Badgers guard. A long-time college (Oregon)
and NFL football coach and administrator, he died before he could consider being part of Honor Flight.