Priority flight for veterans planned

It may be last shot to see World War II memorial

Three area WW II veterans and the wife of one of the veteran hope to participate in the Western Slope Honor Flight, a project that will fly the veterans and guardians to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial in May. Edie Graham, right, holds information about the Honor Flight as she joins with, from left to right, veterans Palu Coe, Jessie Stewart and Edie’s husband Joe Graham. Coe and Joe Graham served in the U.S. Army, while Stewart served in the Coast Guard during the war to end all wars. Edie Graham hopes to go along as a guardian.

Time is not on the side of World War II veterans.

Yesterday — and the day before that, and the day before that — more than 1,200 of them died, along with the heroic memories of their service and the stories of their incredible accomplishments.

Because time is running short, there is added urgency to the efforts of the Honor Flight Network, a group with a mission to fly veterans at no charge to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials erected in their honor.

Now, an offshoot of the group has been established on the Western Slope, with the aim of organizing a flight full of area World War II veterans so they can visit a memorial especially for their service in Washington, D.C.

“They raised their hands, millions of them ... they volunteered to go to Europe, to the Philippines, and a lot of them didn’t come home,” said Kevin Wodlinger, a veteran and member of the American Legion post organizing Western Slope Honor Flight. “Our World War II vets are dying, and the more I become aware of what those people sacrificed, the more I know that they haven’t been thanked for what they did.”

Western Slope Honor Flight has a charter flight planned for May 1 and hopes to take more than 100 vets to the National World War II Memorial, which was built in 2004.

But the organization needs the community to step up and make all the free trips happen.

Wodlinger said his group needs area businesses and individuals to donate $80,000 to $100,000 by the end of March to make the trip possible. He has spread the word in the community so that as many World War II veterans as possible apply for the free trips.

Wodlinger estimates there are 200 to 300 World War II vets in Garfield, Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties. Veterans groups in the Craig and Meeker areas also want some spots on the plane, he said.

It’ll be first-come, first-served, Wodlinger said, and at least 20 people already have asked to go on the two-day trip in May. World War II veterans from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah or New Mexico are welcome. They will need to be able to at least climb some sets of stairs. Those with severe dementia or paralysis unfortunately are not eligible for the trip.

Volunteer guardians will be on the trip to provide any sort of special needs that aging vets might have. Family members, such sons and daughters of veterans, can apply to go, but will have to pay their own way.

The trip will be a bit of a whirlwind, Wodlinger said. Vets will travel and check into a D.C.-area hotel on a Friday and have dinner that night. Then Saturday, they’ll have breakfast before riding a luxury motorcoach to the National World War II Memorial, where the chances are likely they’ll be greeted by one of Colorado’s legislators, or Bob Dole, or John McCain, who have greeted veterans in the program in the past.

After lunch, the group will head to Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial and the Vietnam and Korean war memorials if there is time. The group will jet back to Grand Junction on Saturday night.

“Apparently, when these vets get there, and tear up, and start to open up and talk about it, it’s a cathartic experience,” Wodlinger said. “This gives us a chance to put an exclamation point somewhere toward the end of their lives.”


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