Bill Peak of Brunswick served three years, 10 months and two days in the Army during World War II but said he never felt like he did his part.
As a cryptographer, he decoded “all sorts of stuff,” but never went overseas where the fighting was.
“I always felt bad about that,” the 89-year-old admitted.
In 2007, Peak found a way to ease his mind. He started Patriot Flight Inc., a nonprofit organization that flies veterans from Albany International Airport to Washington, D.C. for a day trip free of charge. The organization is a hub of the Honor Flight Network.
“That was my time to pay back the guys that were getting shot at when I was over here having a decent life,” he explained.
The first flight lifted off in April of 2008 with about 30 onboard.
“I was the only WWII guy in the country that ran a hub,” Peak noted with pride.
Patriot Flight took veterans to Washington regularly in both spring and fall for several years, but after Peak retired for health reasons, the people who took over the service organized a couple flights and then stopped, he said.
On May 10, with a new volunteer president at the helm, Patriot Flight will take to the skies for the first flight in two years. Plans are in the works for a fall flight as well.
May’s trip will include 45 WWII veterans and 12 from the Korean War. Applications are now being accepted for the fall flight, which will take place in late September or early October.
The trip is open to all WWII and Korean War veterans, and each participant may bring a guardian. The excursion is free for veterans; guardians pay $350.
A lot of memories
During their time in Washington, veterans and their guardians will visit the WWII, Iwo Jima and Korean War memorials as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, time permitting. Lunch and dinner are included, and veterans will also receive a book that tells the history of the National WWII Museum.
The trip is always an emotional one, said Peak, who has been on several of them.
“I saw a lot of tears, a lot of choking up, a lot of memories. Watching some of the veterans, particularly when they get down to an area [of the monument dedicated to] where they fought, and you see them sitting there just staring at the words. Unbelievable. It’s very rewarding. All the exhaustion, all the hard work and all that is worth every second, just to see one veteran do that,” he explained.
The National WWII Memorial opened to the public roughly 60 years after the war, so many local veterans will never have a chance to see it if they don’t go on a Patriot Flight, Peak said.
“When you start getting into your 80s or early 90s, it becomes difficult to get there and back safely, and this provides a channel for them to go down and have someone take care of them on the flight and bring them back safely,” he explained.
Frank DeSorbo of Delmar, the new president of Patriot Flight, said the trip is also very rewarding for those who go as guardians. Several teachers are going on the May flight, he noted.
“People think of the history as dead; it’s past us,” DeSorbo said. “These [veterans] are the living history that have seen it and we shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to be around them.”
Patriot Flight is funded by donations. Each trip costs about $500 per passenger, and drumming up enough money is a challenge.
“We don’t sit back. It’s a constant 24/7, 365-day effort and we’ll keep doing it,” DeSorbo said.
Patriot Flight trip applications can be found at patriotflight.com. For more information or to donate to the cause, contact DeSorbo at 439-9265.