More than 100 veterans were able to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, with help from Monroe Township’s Honor Flight initiative.
Honor Flight was created in 2005 by Jeff Miller and Earl Morse to honor veterans by helping them visit memorials and monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifice. Since its formation, the Honor Flight Network has brought more than 245,000 veterans to Washington.
“As the World War II generation of veterans has continued to age, we have turned our attention to veterans of other wars,” said Gretchen Czbas, Williamstown High School department chair and Honor Flight board member.
“This group is predominantly Korean and Vietnam vets,” she added. “We also have some Iraq and Desert Storm vets as well … The goal of this organization is to give these vets a day of honor.”
After hearing about Honor Flight, Pam Pontano, a retired teacher at Williamstown High, and her husband Ron decided to implement the initiative as a class project in 2006. Since then, it has grown to include the entire district.
“This actually started in one of our special-needs classrooms,” said Czbas. “It quickly grew to be a school-wide endeavor, and we try to incorporate as many kids as possible.”
The veterans’ trip started with a 6:30 a.m. breakfast and an opening ceremony at the high school, during which cheering students lined up from the cafeteria to three buses outside the school that would carry the vets to D.C. Each student thanked the group for its service.
“I can tell you, as someone who has been doing this for a while, it is a great experience for the kids,” Czbas noted. “It really connects the two generations … Our kids talk about it and get so excited for it.”
Once the buses reached D.C., their passengers visited the Marine Corps and Air Force memorials, the Vietnam and Korean War memorial sites, and finally, the World War II memorial. They also took tours of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial before their day ended.
“For a lot of our vets, it’s a type of closure for them,” Czbas explained. “It is a time where they get to reflect back on the people that they lost and tell stories to the other guys with them.
“It is a really emotionally important experience for our vets.”
When they returned to Monroe, the veterans were included in a “mail call” to receive letters and cards from family, friends and students celebrating their service.
As they walked off the buses, they were met by cheers from yet another crowd thanking them. The vets also got photos and keepsakes from the day.
The school district plans to host another Honor Flight next April 20. Anyone interested in participating can reach out to Czbas at email@example.com.