Veterans’ Reunion features Awards, Fall Flight Dates, New Leadership Team

HonorFlight RochesterMore than 200 WWII Veterans and Guardians, who have flown on Rochester Honor Flights, gathered to celebrate the organization’s First Year success at Legacy Clover Blossom tonight. Emotions and energy ran high as travelers reunited from the three Honor Flights to date funded entirely by private community donations.

The perfect sunset evening on the Legacy’s open courtyard was filled with Len Hawley’s swing tunes of the 1940’s and lively patriotic drum and bugle medleys from Tom Allen’s Prime Time Brass. Veterans shared personal memorabilia, photos and stories, while enjoying gourmet desserts prepared by chefs from the Legacy senior community. Other residents gathered on balconies above the courtyard, adding to the festive occasion.

HonorFlight RochesterDignitaries gathered to fete and greet Rochester’s WWII heroes included Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn, retired Major General Norbert Rappl who commanded Rochester’s 98th Reserve Division, Brighton Town Board member and retired Marine Colonel Jim Vogel, along with the New York State President of the Military Officers Association of America, retired Air Force Colonel Edwin “Woody” Mench. Joining the front row dignitaries were two veteran honorees, Air Force Colonel Phil Serafine, and State Supreme Court Judge Donald Mark, both of whom flew on the June Honor Flight. A formal program began as a Marine Color Guard “posted the Colors” and noted vocalist Myron Kowal presented an emotional singing of the National Anthem.

Welcoming ceremonies featured presentation of two 2009 Legacy Independent Senior Living Awards given annually to individuals and organizations for improving the quality of life of Rochester’s senior citizens. This year’s first award went to Meghan Backus and Jay Gardner of WROC TV-8 / Fox News for their documentary coverage of Rochester’s maiden Honor Flight, entitled “Heroes Among Us” which aired before a live studio audience on Veterans Day, 2008.

In presenting the award Paul Foti, Senior Vice President of Legacy Communities, noted that WROC’s recurring Honor Flight coverage has set a “foundation and tone of support from the community which has allowed these hundreds gathered here today to experience the flight of a lifetime.”

HonorFlight RochesterA second 2009 Legacy Award was presented to Honor Flight President Vince Hope, for his “hours of dedication that have gone into building an Honor Flight organization here in Rochester,” said Don Riley, Legacy’s Marketing Vice President and Master of Ceremonies. The local Honor Flight is an affiliate of a four-year old national program that flies WWII Veterans for free to visit the Memorial built in their honor in 2004 on the national mall in Washington D.C. Honor Flight’s goal, according to Hope, is to “take every WWII veteran who otherwise would or could not travel at this stage in their lives. The trip is a public celebration of their heroic efforts six decades ago.”

“Think about it,” said Hope. “They were just kids, and they saved the world. We owe everything we have today to this generation.”

While celebrating the reunion of 125 Veterans who have flown along with support personnel in year one, Hope indicated that another 340 applicants are waiting to travel. Tentative plans to fly 175 of those veterans on 3 additional Honor Flights from Rochester this fall, were solidified during the evening when younger attendees and one anonymous donor funded the third flight with on the spot contributions. Each flight costs upwards of $30,000 with each Veteran’s seat on the 40-hour Honor Flight costing $450.

Flights are now scheduled for Sept. 26-27, Oct 17-18 and Oct 31-Nov 1. Veterans and their Guardians are chosen in the order in which they applied, and notification phone calls will be going to the next 175 WWII Veterans in the weeks ahead, according to local leaders.

HonorFlight RochesterThose leaders were themselves the center of attention, as Hope announced an expanded leadership team which has been formed to grow the organization into year two. Joining that team are retired RN Rosemary Ann Roth (Veterans), retired Monroe County Sheriff Major Dick Schaff (Flight Operations), Anna Alger Executive Director of Legacy at the Fairways in Victor (Community Outreach), and Faculty Practice Program Coordinator at Rochester General Hospital, RN Kathleen Dietz (Volunteers). Michele Unger RN, DNP has joined the Executive team as Secretary and joins continuing officers Kathleen Wall of Geneseo (VP – Quality and Process Development), Woody Mench of Pittsford (Treasurer), Jeff and Kim Gould of Webster (Development & Major Donors), and Peter Glennon, Niagara Air Guard flyer and attorney at Nixon Peabody.

Pointing to the strength of the volunteer leader team, Hope tipped his hat to the past but focused clearly on the future. “All of these capable folks have emerged from our flights together. And they all understand that a hidden gift for our senior-most veterans is having found one another in Honor Flight. It begins gloriously with the Veterans but infects all our generations who travel with them.”

HonorFlight Rochester“Yet it is the talent assembled here that will allow us to grow into 2010,” said Hope. With another 6 Honor Flights anticipated in 2010 to fly an expected 350 more Veterans, growth in finances and volunteer horsepower are central concerns, according to the President. “We can’t begin to meet the goals set forth without even greater community funding and recurring volunteer energy as more and more families experience the life changing aspects of an Honor Flight.”

Tipping his hat to sponsoring partners who contribute significantly to that energy, Hope joined the festive throngs of 85 and 90 year-old honorees, noting “These Legacy folks know something about puttin’ on the Ritz!”

Mission 83 (59 vets)
May 25-26
Mission 84 (57 vets)
June 15-16
Unfortunately veterans cannot choose what flight they will travel on due to medical and logistic issues associated with the flight process. We also encourage veterans from the Syracuse and Buffalo area's to visit and register with their local Honor Flight hubs before registering with Rochester Honor Flight.