Because of the pandemic, Leatherstocking Honor Flight has had to wait more than two years to bring veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials and enjoy a day of camaraderie.
The flights are returning. Along with more.
The group has booked a charter flight for Saturday, Oct. 1. A trip had been planned for June but due to airline turmoil, they were unable to go.
“We’re booked. We’ll have 140 people, and that probably represents about 70 vets,” said Greg Furlong, group chairman. “I don’t know if we’ll have any World War II vets. It’ll be mostly Korean vets, Vietnam vets and vets from subsequent wars.”
LHF is a non-profit, all-volunteer member of the Honor Flight Network.
Since its first flight in 2008, the organization, based in Cobleskill, has had the support of local communities allowing it to hold three or four missions a year, and serving a total of more than 1,500 veterans.
“We were pretty naive when we started,” said Furlong. “We actually have vets tell us it was the best day of their life. They come back changed; they have a better understanding of how appreciated they are, how revered they are. They come back pumped up.
“The vets will say ‘thank you,’ and it’s kind of ironic, because we thank the vets for their service.
“Once we saw what a great effect we had on the vets, and that we have the support of the community, well ….”
Now the group is doing even more, and has joined forces with the Homeward Bound Adirondacks organization in offering free veteran retreats.
A retreat was held for combat veterans from June 10-12 on Lake Pleasant in Speculator, where activities included kayaking, light hiking and an option of white water rafting. A vet-to-vet campfire discussion was held at night.
Two more retreats are scheduled — the weekend of Sept. 23-25 and again on Oct. 14-16.
Coming up soon is a one-day trip for Purple Heart recipients on Saturday, Aug. 20, to the scenic Hudson Valley.
The day will include a tour boat ride on the Hudson River, a visit to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, (George) Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site and the United States Military Academy in West Point, followed by dinner at the famous Thayer Hotel.
The day includes breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as transportation from Albany. It is free and open to all Purple Heart recipients, each with a guest. Future dates will be determined based on responses.
For information contact Liz at 518-339-2464.
“We decided that we could do more,” said Furlong, “so we created the LHF Veterans Initiative, and that allows us to do things otuside the purview of Honor Flights.
“The people on our board are pumped up about doing more for our vets,” he added. Furlong said that community donations cover most of the costs of the group’s programs.
The Honor Flights to Washington are accomplished in one day.
They fly out of Albany to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial and other places depending on time. Dinner caps the day before the return flight.
In the morning, before boarding the flight to Washington, there is a convoy of motorcycles, fire engines and police cars escorting the veterans to Albany International Airport.
“They get to the airport and the band is playing, and people are there, local officials. It’s a hero’s welcome,” said Furlong. “It’s just so heartwarming to watch, and to see these vets’ reactions. It’s just very, very powerful stuff.”
Furlong recalled a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial on an Honor Flight a few years back, and along for the trip was a local veteran, by then confined to a wheelchair, who was a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
As they approached the memorial, they noticed three young Marines in dress uniform and three young women in gowns. Furlong said he asked them about the occasion.
“Today I was promoted to colonel,” said one of the Marines. “and I felt the need to come here.”
“I said, ‘Well, you’re not going to believe this, but 15 feet behind you is a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima,’ ” Furlong told the young man. “He just about turned white.”
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would meet a veteran of the battle,” said the newly promoted Marine.
Later, the Iwo Jima veteran said to Furlong, “I landed on that island with a company of 250 men, and 31 days later, 26 of us walked off,” (In total, more than 6,000 U.S. Marines and 700 Navy sailors were killed in the battle.)
“Sir,” said Furlong, “You have no idea what an honor it is to escort you to this memorial.”
For more on the organizations, visit homewardboundadirondacks.org and leatherstockinghonorflightny.org.