Planning the missions: U.P. Honor Flight possible due to behind-the-scenes work
MARQUETTE – Barb Van Rooy prefers stories about Upper Peninsula Honor Flight be about the veterans taking part, not about her or the other people who make the trips a reality.
However, Honor Flights are referred to as missions – Mission V being the most recent on Sept. 18 – and if that’s the case, then Van Rooy is the five-star general whose logistical expertise makes the journeys an amazing experience for those taking part.
This fifth mission of U.P. Honor Flight included 75 veterans, mostly from World War II, and their guardians – volunteers who pay their own way for the privilege of escorting an Honor Flight participant. The flight is free for the veterans, thanks to fundraising efforts.
In its five missions, U.P. Honor Flight so far has taken more than 400 veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial – which was dedicated in 2004 – and other patriotic landmarks.
An incredible amount of planning goes into the flights so that the day of, the veterans and guardians have as easy a time as possible keeping up with the busy schedule. The flight leaves Delta County Airport at about 7:30 a.m. to go to Washington, D.C., not returning until 13 hours later.
All that happens in those 13-plus hours has to be carefully plotted and Van Rooy and Co. have become logistics masters. For instance, three charter buses are needed to bring the veterans from landmark to landmark and a police escort is arranged to make the travel smooth.
With that escort, Honor Flight doesn’t stop for red lights, allowing these heroes the chance to see as much as possible during their time in the nation’s capital.
But that’s just one aspect of the planning. There’s also making sure the needs of these special travelers are met.
“We bring along 850 bottles of water, which is 35 cases, and we keep them on ice. We really emphasize hydration,” Van Rooy said. “We bring 60 wheelchairs, 20 for each bus.”
Then there’s the meals. A hot breakfast is served on the Sun Country Airlines chartered 737 once the plane is on its way to Washington. After that…
“We order (box) lunch for 175, because sometimes we have extra family members who meet us once we get to Washington,” Van Rooy said. “And we get the same number of dinners. There are no restaurants around where we go and having the meals delivered saves us time.”
Before departing from Escanaba, each veteran and guardian is issued a bag which contains candy, gum, tissues and other items. Bananas are distributed as a snack between meals.
While the veterans and guardians are briefed ahead of time about what’s going to happen on the journey, Van Rooy and her Honor Flight planning committee work in some surprises during each trip.
For Mission IV in May, for example, a special concert by the U.S. Air Force Concert Band was put on exclusively for the U.P. Honor Flight at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
On Mission V, the music was brought to Reagan National Airport, where U.P. Honor Flight landed.
“(The Air Force band) sent four musicians who played by the door, so when we were getting on the buses, we had great music playing,” Van Rooy said.
She and veteran August Walker of Newberry even did some dancing in the airport terminal as the rest of the flight participants cheered them on.
Also Mission V was the first U.P. Honor Flight to visit the Air Force Memorial and while there witnessed the amazing precision routines of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team.
“That was a big hit with our veterans,” Van Rooy said.
For anyone who’d like to see what a U.P. Honor Flight is all about, a special DVD about Mission V was put together by Jim Duflo of Newberry, who took part in the event and filmed the entire trip.
Copies of the DVD are available for a $10 donation. For more information, call Van Rooy at 906-280-1471.
That’s also a number to call to sign up a World War II veteran from the Upper Peninsula who has yet to journey with the flight. Applications from Korean War veterans are being accepted as well.
While the dates have not been set, two Honor Flights will take place in 2014, Van Rooy said.
Fundraising has begun for these flights. Donations can be made to Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, c/o Community Foundation of the Upper Peninsula, 2420 1st Avenue, South, Suite 101, Escanaba, MI 49829
For more information on U.P. Honor Flight, visit its website at upperpeninsulahonorflight.org. Its Facebook page is facebook.com/pages/Upper-Peninsula-Honor-Flight/116200448458635
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.