For almost a decade, a group of volunteers has undertaken the task of bringing veterans of World War II to visit the Washington, D.C. monument honoring their sacrifice.
Since its inception, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight has flown more than five thousand veterans from around Wisconsin to Washington, to see the WWII memorial and Arlington National Cemetery at absolutely no cost to them.
It’s a moving experience for the veterans, and for the friends and family who welcome them back at the end of the day. The full scope of the project is captured in a new book of photographs called Honor Flight: A Visual Journey.
Starting at 4:30 AM, the veterans and their guests meet at the Mitchell Airport, waiting to board a flight to Washington, D.C. As they leave, they are sent off with a large reception from their families.
“It’s about a big homecoming and a big send off,” says Courtney Lutz, the photographer of Honor Flight.
When the plane lands, another reception awaits them, with many people thanking them for their service. As the group tours throughout the day, Lutz says strangers often come up to the veterans to talk and to thank them.
As Lutz puts it, Honor Flight “captures quiet moments of reflection” as the soldiers take in the memorials, thinking of events that they had not experienced in more than 70 years.
When the veterans arrive back in Milwaukee that night, another reception awaits them and they get to walk through a line of saluting soldiers.
Lutz says the experience bridges the gap between the generations, as veterans interact with guests, strangers and volunteers. It also helps the veterans open up, going back in time as they reminisce about their experiences, some of which they may have never shared previously with anyone.
“Things that we learned along this journey, through these pictures particularly, was that as important as it was to thank these veterans and we better not wait another 70 years to thank them again,” says Joe Dean, Stars and Stripes Honor Flight chairman and founder.
To that aim, Dean and board member and Honor Flight book editor Renee Riddle wanted to reach out to Fisher House Wisconsin, a planned home-away-from-home for military veterans and their families being treated at the Milwaukee VA.
Board of Directors President Dan Buttery says half of the proceeds from the book will go toward building the facility. With similar aims, both organizations want to help veterans and their families reflect on their experiences.
A movie has also been made about Stars and Stripes Honor Flight - watch the trailer below.