STEWART AIRPORT – Hudson Valley Honor Flight kicked off their 18th mission Saturday at Stewart International Airport.
This was their first flight that carried a majority of Korean War veterans and also was tied for their largest capacity flight ever with 86 veteran passengers in total: 10 WWII veterans, 72 Korean War veterans and four Vietnam War veterans.
Hudson Valley Honor Flight was initially established to offer a free trip for WWII veterans to visit the WWII Memorial in Washington DC and provide them with an honorary ceremony when they left and returned to Stewart.
They have since expanded to serve Korean veterans and Vietnam veterans, which they will continue into full Vietnam veteran service and eventually to Gulf War veteran service.
Each flight has a somewhat different, unique itinerary for the participating veterans. Flight 18 included a visit to the WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, an audience with the changing of the guard and sit down dinner before flying back to Stewart.
Just before boarding the plane, some of the veterans shared their feelings and appreciation of getting to be a part of the Honor Flight program.
Harold “Smitty” Smith, an Army Korean War veteran, said, “It is the most honorable thing I ever seen in my lifetime! This is just a fantastic thing with all these terrific veterans. It’s just a great honor.”
WWII veteran of the Army 165 Field Artillery Battalion, Edwin Fitchett said he felt “Fantastic – the greatest thing that ever happened to me! I’m just very much excited about this whole program. I think it’s terrific that they should honor the veterans.”
Fitchett added his overwhelming appreciation for the organization that afforded him the opportunity.
“I’m just amazed at all the work that people have done on this program. My goodness, everything, every detail is taken care of. They deserve so much respect from us because of that,” said Fitchett.
Unfortunately, the program that provides these veterans with a way to get out to socialize, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a ceremony for their service, one they may have never received, is facing some financial troubles. Hudson Valley Honor Flight Chairman Frank Kimler said, due to an increase of 30 percent for their plane fees, resulting in costs of $70,000 to $100,000 per flight, they may have to cut back on flights for the first time ever. He said the organization’s goals moving forward will be not only getting more vets to sign up, as has always been the case, but finding more sponsorship as well.
“This year we ran a deficit. We didn’t have the money and next year we may be cutting back flights, actually, if we don’t find more sponsors,” said Kimler. “We’ve done four flights a year for three years now. We may be doing three flights next year. It depends how our Lunch of Honor does on December 4th, but we can’t run deficits every year, so we’ve got to find more sponsors or we’re cutting back, and that’s the sad reality,” he said.
Hudson Valley Honor Flight regularly receives large donations from Shoprite, donating $100,000 Saturday, but according to Kimler, it’s not enough.
Hudson Valley Honor Flights have also taken off from Westchester County Airport.