Honor Flight Buffalo provides a special service to veterans as it transports them to Washington, D.C., to see various landmarks and memorials. It made its final flight for the year in October.
The not-for-profit organization gives top priority to America's most senior heroes, the survivors of World War II, and any veteran with a terminal illness who wishes to visit their memorial. The program then transitions to veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam War and all other veterans who served on a chronological basis. A guardian, who can be a relative, can assist the veteran throughout the whole trip. If necessary, Honor Flight Buffalo can provide a volunteer. Everything is completely no cost to the veteran, while the guardian does pay his or her way.
Honor Flight Buffalo was co-founded by Jo-Anne and Lisa Wylie as well as Charles D. Dunkle after serving as volunteer guardians on an honor flight in 2008. They soon realized that the organization's national office had greater than 200 WWII veterans waiting to make the journey to Washington. In 2009, Buffalo became Honor Flight's 90th hub serving veterans from Erie, Niagara and surrounding counties in the area. Since then, Honor Flight Buffalo has sent more than 343 veterans from Western New York to Washington, D.C.
Deborah Zielinski, of St. Andrews Parish in Sloan, has been with Honor Flight Buffalo since the beginning, and continues to do outreach work for the organization. She said the experience has been truly humbling.
"The WWII veterans are some of the most humble and gracious people I have ever met," said Zielinski. "We do a meet and greet a couple weeks before the flight where the veterans have the option to stand up and introduce themselves and talk about their experiences in the war. I remember one gentleman, who I was a guardian for on the flight, whispered to me that he didn't think he should be here because he didn't really consider himself a hero. I asked him, out of curiosity, what did you do during the war? He simply replied, 'I occupied Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped.' So I think his response gives you a sense on how humble and modest these veterans are."
While it is always an honor and a privilege to hear war stories from the veterans, Honor Flight stresses that it is not required to share any personal stories or details. The main purpose of the flight is to see an individual memorial.
"No matter what your duty was in the war, you are all entitled to be a part of this," Zielinski said.
Honor Flight is a one-day trip with breakfast, lunch and dinner provided, and each flight seats an average of 26 veterans to see the WWII memorial, as well as other memorials such as the Arlington and Iwo Jima.
"Every experience is a little different," Zielinski said. "I still get teary eyed when I meet a new veteran for the first time, and when I see them finally get to see their memorial. It truly is humbling."
Honor Flight Buffalo does an average of four flights per year. It guarantees that all applications are kept, so if that for any reason a veteran can't make a flight due to health reasons, they will be put on the next flight. Honor Flight Buffalo's main goal is to ensure that veterans who want to see their memorial, will be able to do so.
"It has been a privilege from the very first flight I was ever on, and I never want to give up this experience," Zielinski said. It's new every time."
For more information about Honor Flight Buffalo visit the website or call 716-254-4376 for an application.