By Brian Prowse-Gany
It’s now been more than 70 years since the end of World War II, and it’s estimated that approximately 500 WWII veterans pass away each day. As the numbers of “The Greatest Generation” dwindle, Joe Byron has made it his personal mission to show America’s heroes the gratitude and appreciation they deserve.
A former New Hampshire police detective who investigated crimes against the senior population, Byron spent a lot of time in the senior community building relationships and earning the trust of the people he served. After hearing war stories from a WWII POW, he was inspired to start a New England chapter of the national organization Honor Flight.
“We certainly know that we’re in a race against time,” says Byron. “The average World War II vet that we transport is over 90 years old. … What we have to do is enjoy every second of every day that we can be with them.”
The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing America’s veterans with an unforgettable trip to Washington, D.C., so they can visit the memorials that have been built for and dedicated to their service and sacrifice.
It’s a race against the clock to say “thank you” to these vets, most of whom have never seen these memorials due to health, financial or logistical reasons. Over the course of the day, they will see not only the WWII memorial but also the Korea, Vietnam and Air Force memorials. They’ll also visit Arlington National Cemetery to view the changing of the guard and pay their respects to the soldiers who didn’t return.
Byron takes particular care to make the journeys as memorable as possible for each and every veteran, from a huge reception at Boston’s Logan International Airport before takeoff to a mail call where letters written by friends and family are distributed and a USO-style sing-along and dance party to close out the day.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for veterans like Bob and Chuck Gagnon and Normand Berube, two brothers and a brother-in–law from Fall River, Mass., who have quietly kept their service history to themselves while creating a large, loving family over the past several decades.
“It’s just amazing that people still remember,” says Chuck. “It’s a day that I will remember for the rest of my days, believe me.”
For them and the 57 other veterans they traveled with, it was a day to reflect, open up and be reminded that their sacrifices have not been forgotten.
To volunteer or donate, please visit honorflightnewengland.org.