North Country Honor Flight to launch two more flights Saturday

·4 min read

Sep. 17—PLATTSBURGH — North Country Honor Flight will take 28 more veterans to Washington, D.C. this weekend on flights 34 and 35.

Among them will be a World War II veteran, 10 Korean War veterans, 16 Vietnam veterans and one Iraq/Afghanistan veteran, the first of the latest conflicts to go on an Honor Flight.

"I'm really looking forward to this trip and having a good time," Wesley Black, a former staff sergeant in the Vermont National Guard who served tours of duty in Iraq in 2005-06 and Afghanistan in 2010.

SACRIFICE

Black, who lives in White River Junction, Vt., was wounded in Iraq when an improvised explosive device went off under the vehicle he was in.

He recovered and finished his tour, but now at the age of 36, he continues to fight a serious illness stemming from his service from which he was medically retired in 2015.

He doesn't know for sure what his future will be healthwise, but he is excited to make the trip to visit the World War II and other war memorials in the nation's capital along with his fellow veterans.

"I've never been to the memorials before and it will be nice to see the past sacrifices of veterans and show my son what the true meaning of sacrifice is," Black said.

Black was referred to North Country Honor Flight, which serves veterans in Vermont as well as Northern New York, and Executive Director Barrie Finnegan was delighted to take him along as the first Iraq/Afghanistan veteran to go on a trip.

"What a great young man and what a story he has," Finnegan said.

Black will be accompanied by his wife, Laura, and son, Ronan, who is five years old, which is a departure from normal flight guidelines, which feature one guardian per veteran.

"It's a little bit different than normal, but he (Black) doesn't know how long he has to live so every day is important for him and to take him away from his son for one day would be stealing a day away and we don't want to do that," Finnegan said.

Also on this trip will be 95-year-old World War II veteran Steve Gitto.

"It's great to have a World War II vet on this flight, and he is so excited," Finnegan said.

TWO FLIGHTS

Like the trip in August, North Country Honor Flight will send two aircraft with 14 veterans on each flight to Washington on Saturday.

The day will begin with the sending-off ceremony at 7 a.m. at Veterans Park on the Oval of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.

At the August flight, a parade of 161 motorcycles as well as numerous emergency service vehicles ushered the Honor Flight bus to Plattsburgh International Airport to catch their flights.

"It was quite a sight to see, and it is so exciting to hear that rumble of the motorcycles and all the sirens," Finnegan said.

"It brings a tear to your eye."

Large crowds are also expected, and welcome, for the sending-off ceremony. Finnegan said they will follow all COVID-19 protocols and they strongly urge the public to wear masks, use caution and common sense.

"Especially when they are around the veterans. Many of them are elderly and some sick so we want to do everything we can to get them on this trip safety," Finnegan said.

All veterans and guardians on the trip have been vaccinated.

The return ceremony is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the Oval.

FUTURE FLIGHTS

Finnegan said that if this weekend's trip goes as well as the August trip, which also had two flights, they probably will continue the model next year.

All Honor Flight trips were canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If we can do the same next year, we can really cut down on our waiting list and get everyone on a flight," he said.

After Saturday's trip, there will be 130 veterans on a waiting list.

While the double flights cost a bit more, Finnegan said he expects they will be able to handle it.

The American Legion Post 1618 in Saranac led a fund-raising effort to fund most of this weekend's trip, along with the American Legion Riders and Auxiliary.

"We have tremendous local support," Finnegan said.

"I see chapters from around the country and they have great support, but I think we are head and shoulders above everybody else."

Email Joe LoTemplio:

jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @jlotemplio

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting