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Reboot: High Plains Honor Flight for veterans will take off in September

February 8, 2019 


Terry Frei 


The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial receives about 3 million visitors per year. (High Plains Honor Flight.)

Last September, when the Northern Colorado Honor Flight took 123 veterans — 113 who served during the Vietnam War, 7 who served during the Korean War and 3 who served during World War II — to Washington, D.C., the trip was billed the “Mission Accomplished Stan Cass Memorial Fight.”

That honored retired Army Col. Stan Cass, a veteran of multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, served as Honor Flight Northern Colorado president until his death in April 2018. The first Northern Colorado Honor Flight was in 2008, and there were two trips annually. But that trip last September was promoted as the organization’s final excursion.

However, using the existing organization legal framework and its 501(3)(c) non-profit status, Honor Flight Northern Colorado board member Matt Voris is taking over as president of a largely new board for the renamed “High Plains Honor Flight.” Jim Kepler is the other board holdover and Diana Warberg is the organization’s treasurer. It will continue to work under the national Honor Flight Network umbrella.


Logo by Adam Gostenik.

The organization is planning its first Honor Flight for Sept. 15 and is accepting applications from or on behalf of veterans on its web site, http://www.highplainshonorflight.org.

“Before I put this organization together, I asked Col. Cass’ wife, Cecily, for her blessing to do this,” Voris said from his Eaton home Thursday night. “I got approval from the Honor Flight Northern Colorado board of directors to do so as well. We’re basically the same organization, keeping everything intact as a community foundation with financial oversight. We just changed the name so if we stub our toe in the future, we don’t want to tarnish what’s already been done by Col. Cass and Honor Flight Northern Colorado.”

The financial oversight is through The Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County.


World War II Memorial. (High Plains Honor Flight.)

Voris, 52, a manager who works in the JBS corporate office, said there was much public feedback, expressing support for continuing the flights, which generally include 123 veterans whose travel is free and 63 escorts who make contributions to cover their costs. He said he is working to resume the relationship with American Airlines, to use one of that company’s planes.

“There were a couple of others who expressed interest in finding out what it takes to do this kind of thing and go out on their own and do it,” Voris said. “I think the board was comfortable with lending the name to someone who has been on the board for several years and has worked with the organization.”

The trip participants meet at the Embassy Suites in Loveland and, with well-wishers lining Interstate 25, travel by bus to Denver International for their flight and then to Washington for a two-day stay.

The stops on the previous trips for the veterans have been 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.


Korean War Veterans Memorial. (High Plains Honor Flight.)

Although most World War II-era veterans have passed away, and survivors now are in their 90s, Voris said his organization doesn’t consider that chapter closed in terms of future trip attendance.

“If there are World War II veterans who can get to our sendoff, we’ll continue to give them priority, followed by the Korean veterans,” Voris said. “We’ve serviced most of those people in this community. But there’s still some veterans out there who have never heard of Honor Flight. I got a call from a gentleman up in Billings, Mont., who is 93 years old and a Korean War veteran. I told him if he could get here, we’d get him on the flight.”

By necessity, though, the focus will additionally evolve to veterans of the Vietnam War plus Desert Storm, especially in the wake of approval — pending the raising of the money to build it — of a Desert Storm War Memorial to be constructed at 23rd Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington.

Voris, an Army veteran himself, said he was reluctant at first to try to pick up the torch, but the deciding factors were what he remembered of the Vietnam veterans’ reaction on the September Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip; and the willingness of others with a passion for the cause to serve on the High Plains Honor Flight board.

“To see (113) Vietnam veterans go to the wall all together was a pretty emotional deal, and you could see how that trip changed those Vietnam veterans,” Voris said. “I think if you talk them to a man, they’d say that other Vietnam vets deserve that same kind of experience.”

The High Plains Honor Flight also is listed on the national Honor Flight Network site as the hub for Nebraska and Wyoming, in addition to Northern Colorado.

There still are two other Honor Flight organizations operating in the state — the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Honor Flight; and the Colorado Springs-based Honor Flight of Southern Colorado. The flights for all three depart from and return to DIA.