Following a hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut Honor Flights will resume their mission of transporting veterans to memorials in Washington D.C. and Virginia on June 5 of this year.
Part of the National Honor Flight program that includes 131 independent hubs in 45 states, Honor Flight Connecticut departs out of Bradley International to bring veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to visit their landmark memorials in and around the nation’s capital.
The national program, started in 2005, is a nonprofit charity organization relying on donors who want to support veterans. To date the organization has transported 250,000 veterans to Washington D.C.
Connecticut’s official Honor Flights began in 2019 when Matt Sparks moved to Connecticut from upstate New York where he was an Honor Flight coordinator and discovered there wasn’t a program here. Prior to the official formation of Honor Flights Connecticut, another individual had occasionally provided flights for veterans to D.C. to visit the memorials, known as Warrior Flights.
“We started up our first flight in October of 2019. It was great,” Sparks said in an interview. “We took only WWII veterans because we do it by age and the older guys, we have to get to first.”
“We were ready to go again in the Spring of 2020 and then we shut down because of COVID. We’ve been down for almost three years,” Sparks said. “This will be our first flight since our inaugural flight in 2019.”
Sparks says the upcoming flight on June 5th will transport 42 veterans and their guardian companions – individuals who must escort the veteran to ensure they have all the help and care they need during the trip — to Washington D.C.
The veterans will be transported by bus to Bradley International Airport with a full regalia of motorcycle, State Police and Firefighter procession, followed by a ceremony at the airport with military dignitaries.
“They’ll be coming in with a splash at 7:30 in the morning to baggage claim at Southwest and we’ve invited all the public, and their family and the members,” Sparks said.
Sparks says this a celebration of the veterans’ service, one which they may not have received upon returning home from war.
“Our guys never got much of a big splash when they came home,” Sparks said. “WWII and Korea, when they came home, they had to get on with their jobs, they had a lot to do. They all came back at the same time and there wasn’t a lot of fanfare and welcome home. Vietnam, when they came home, it was even worse. Not only did they not get a welcome home, they were not treated particularly well and that was kind of sad, because they were doing what their country asked them to do, regardless of the situation with the war, it was difficult.”
“We kind of like to think we bring them some closure, we give them the welcome home they never had,” Sparks said. “We give them a day of honor in D.C., we see the monuments that were built to honor their service to their country.”
The flight is free for the veteran and are allotted on a first come, first serve basis, with special consideration given for WWII vets and those who may be facing a terminal illness. The guardian is expected to pay a $350, which covers all flights, bus transportation and meals.
Sparks says the Honor Flight mission is becoming more of a “moving target” as veterans age, face health problems and pass away. Plus, the organization has to secure funding and transportation to and from the flights for the aging veterans.
“We’re excited to be up and running again,” Sparks said. “We’re always looking for applications and we’re interested in getting as many applications as we can.”
Applications for Connecticut’s Honor Flights can be found on Honor Flight Connecticut’s website. People can also donate to help fund future flights.
“Our challenge is to get the veterans and raise the money, because it costs us a fair amount of money to do these trips and we don’t charge the veterans at all. We fundraise for all that,” Sparks said. “So, we’re moving fast to get veterans, get money and get down to D.C. and show them how much their appreciated and how much their service meant to this country.”