AP NEWS

High Plains Honor Flight carrying on a tradition, taking Nebraska veterans to visit nation’s capital

March 21, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Colorado-based High Plains Honor Flight is carrying on a tradition started in 2008 to bring veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials erected in their honor.

The original organization, Honor Flight Northern Colorado, was founded by retired Army Col. Stan Cass. The group took its 21st and final trip last September after taking at least 3,000 veterans to the nation’s Capitol.

In those 10 years, the group raised just over $3 million to cover the expense of those trips, which were free to veterans.

“We had fulfilled the original mission of getting as many World War II veterans to Washington as possible,” said board member Matt Voris, a Scottsbluff graduate. “We decided in February of 2018 to close down and finished out our two trips that year. The September flight included 113 Vietnam veterans, the largest group we’ve had.”

But when Cass unexpectedly died in April 2018, Voris asked his widow if they could continue the mission in his honor.

With her approval and support from the Honor Flight Northern Colorado board, the new High Plains Honor Flight was organized. They are affiliated with the national Honor Flight Network. Voris said they’re basically the same organization with a different name.

Voris said September’s flight for Vietnam veterans was especially important to him because those men and women never received a proper welcome home.

“It was powerful to see that many of them gathering at the Vietnam War Memorial,” he said. “The way they looked when they got back home was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off their shoulders. These trips are very therapeutic for a lot of veterans because many of them never talked about their experiences, even to their own families. When they’re around each other, the barriers start coming down and they can share what they went through.”

The first flight under the new name of High Plains Honor Flight is scheduled for Sept. 15-16. About 75 veterans and 60 guardians have submitted applications so far for the trip to Washington.

“Normally, we travel with 123 veterans and 63 guardians,” Voris said. “Every trip is a full plane of 186 people.”

All of their trips start from Loveland, Colorado, and about 1,200 people attend the send-off to honor the veterans. An escort to Denver International Airport is provided by the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders and local law enforcement.

During their stay, veterans will visit all the national memorials on the Capitol Mall, as well as Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac in Virginia. The first evening banquet includes guest speakers from the military brass.

Voris said they will continue honoring veterans in northern Colorado, as well as reaching out to eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, as neither area has an active Honor Flight program.

While most of the honor flights are mostly Vietnam era veterans, that might expand to include more recent military members. The government is considering building a Desert Storm memorial in the next couple of years, giving more veterans the opportunity to visit.

“Middle East operations have lasted 18 years, so we also need to welcome home those veterans,” Voris said. “Everything we do is through generous support from the communities we serve.”

Veterans who would like to be included on one of the flights are encouraged to go to the High Plains Honor Flight Facebook page or online at highplainshonorflight.org for more information.

jpurvis@starherald.com