AP NEWS

Tavern league rallies for vets

May 16, 2019

As it helps an already great idea become even better, the Jefferson County Tavern League’s top brass met with the Daily Times Monday to discuss its dedication to the mission of the Vets Roll project.

Undertaken by Mark Finnegan of South Beloit, Illinois to honor his father who fought in World War II, Vets Roll allows United States military veterans the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. -- free of charge -- to visit the various memorials the nation’s capital has to offer.

Joining the meeting at Vietnam veteran Steve Hepp’s Silver Eagle tavern in downtown Watertown was Finnegan, himself.

Vets Roll offers what it calls “closure, gratitude and respect” to U.S. military veterans and this Sunday through Wednesday will again transport interested veterans and women who served as “Rosie the Riveters” through 1966, by luxury coach, to see their monuments and memorials in Washington.

“The war memorials were built as tributes to the service and the ultimate sacrifice of America’s veterans,” the Vets Roll website states. “We believe it is vitally important for every WWII veteran, ‘Rosie the Riveter’ and senior veteran through 1966 to have the chance to visit and experience their memorials. We provide the long-overdue gift of closure, gratitude and respect that will fill their hearts for the incredible sacrifices they made in the name of freedom so many years ago.”

For Vets Roll organizers, there is no time to waste. It’s website states further, the country is losing its senior veterans at a rate of 900-1,000 per day. These people are in their 70s to late-90s, “and time is not on their side,” the website reads.

Finnegan told the Daily Times he wanted to do something to honor his father’s memory and service in WWII and also hoped to build on the idea of Honor Flights for veterans. Finnegan said although Honor Flights are fantastic, veterans who participate in them get only one day to spend with each other. Finnegan wanted to offer veterans more time to bond, share memories and comfort each other decades after their traumatic war experiences.

He said he thought, “Why not seat them all on luxury coaches and they can ride out to Washington and back, in style, over the course of several days?” That is exactly what happens.

“I wanted to give the guys and women more time together,” he said, adding the first Vets Roll mission took place in 2010. “The biggest thing we learned is that the people on these trips might be strangers when it begins, but by the time they are done, they are like brothers. They realize they were not alone in having the fears they did. My life is forever changed by this.”

Vets Roll uses luxury Badger Charter Coaches for the trip to Washington.

“Traveling this way provides socializing, museums, group dinners, cards, videos, making new friends, camaraderie along with closure, gratitude and respect,” a Vets Roll brochure states.

To ensure the comfort and well-being of the veterans, there will be more than 150 assistants and medical staff accompanying them on this year’s trip.

According to Finnegan, to date, approximately 2,000 vets have participated in what began along the Wisconsin/Illinois border and has grown into a nationwide phenomenon.

The 2019 caravan of buses will carry 220 people over four days from South Beloit to see the National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, along with the memorial sites in Washington, D.C. Among these people will be 19 WWII veterans and 40 who served in Korea. Veterans from the eras of 1954 through 1966 comprise the remainder of the delegation. A victory parade celebration will welcome the group back at the Eclipse Center in Beloit.

“And there is a lengthy waiting list,” Finnegan said, thanking the Tavern League for its contributions over the years.

Hepp serves on the Jefferson County Tavern League Board of Directors and joined Jefferson County Tavern League President Erick Frommgen Monday in saying their local organization is proud to have supported Vets Roll from the get-go and will kick-in about $5,000 this year. Statewide, the 72 county tavern leagues generated $101,000 for this year’s Vet’s Roll. This $101,000, according to Hepp, is double what the tavern league provided last year. Charitable donations to 103 different organizations in the county from the Jefferson County Tavern League in the past year have amounted to $187,700.

“May is Tavern Month and our objective is to let people know we do more than just serve drinks,” Hepp said. “It’s so nice to see the Tavern League of Wisconsin supporting veterans -- giving them their ‘welcome home’ and providing them with the opportunity to see their memorials in Washington. Overall, support for veterans and our troops in general is growing and it’s great.”

Visit www.VetsRoll.org or call Finnegan at 608-207-8319 to donate.