When the Honor Flight lifts off Saturday at Syracuse Hancock International Airport and heads for Washington, D.C., the A320 Airbus jet wont be able to go fast enough.
Its a race against time, said Randy D. Flath, president of the Syracuse Honor Flight chapter.
Every day across America, the Honor Flight organization says we lose nearly 1,300 World War II and Korean War veterans.
The task of Honor Flight is to pay tribute to those veterans by taking them to see and reflect at the nations war memorials in Washington.
Saturdays all-day trip will be the second for the Syracuse hub of Honor Flight. Mr. Flath said a flight last October transported 26 veterans and their chaperones. This year, he said 63 veterans, including 12 north country residents, have been confirmed for the trip.
And the trip will go on despite the federal government shutdown, Mr. Flath said.
After fielding call after call throughout the day Wednesday, Mr. Flath assured veterans that the trip, which cost $40,000 for the air transportation alone, was a go.
Were gonna go to the monuments. Whether or not we get let in remains to be seen, he said.
Mr. Flath said a charter bus service is arranging backup plans, in case of glitches in the itinerary.
I dont think theyre gonna turn away these guys, he said. Theyre the ones that fought for the freedom to have (Congress) in the first place.
Attractions that he believed could be visited despite the shutdown included the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, the Navy monument and the Air Force monument.
Its unfathomable to me that this is happening, he said.
Late Wednesday, he had more hope that the veterans would be able to visit the National World War II Memorial. Posted on the Facebook page of the Sons of National World War II veterans was this message: Honor Flights are being granted access to the World War II Memorial to conduct First Amendment activities in accordance with National Park Service regulations applicable to the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
The National Park Service pressured after two days of defiant veterans crowding into the site despite barriers announced late Wednesday that the veterans had a legal right to be there and they would be allowed access.
Mr. Flath said that 918 veterans on Honor Flights across the nation were scheduled to visit the national war memorials from Oct. 1 to 6.
These guys have waited for this for so long, he said, adding that many veterans have no way to go on their own and they might not be around in another year if the flights are postponed.
This Syracuse Honor Flight was postponed once already last April when the airline couldnt provide a plane, and one veteran from the area died before the trip was rescheduled.
The nonprofit Honor Flight Network, now in its eighth year, has chapters across the country.
Mr. Flath said the trip is free for veterans. The only cost for them, he said, is their trip to the airport.
But after that, they cant even buy a cup of coffee, he said.
The veterans and chaperones, called navigators, are requested to arrive at Hancock International by 5 a.m. Saturday for the 7 a.m. flight.
The flights are made possible, Mr. Flath said, through public and corporate donations. For example, he said research and development company SRC Corp., with an office in Syracuse and its corporate office in Chantilly, Va., made a significant donation this year.
They are familiar with Honor Flight and they heard we were starting a hub and jumped on board, Mr. Flath said. They asked if they could sponsor our flight. It was a very nice monetary donation.
Mr. Flath said that American Eagle donated the charter jet and crew for the first flight last year. The total cost of this years flight, he said, is approximately $65,000.
Regional VFW groups also have fundraisers to send veterans on the trips. Watertown resident and former city mayor, T. Urling Walker, who will be on Saturdays flight, heard about Honor Flight about a year ago at an area fundraiser.
Somebody asked if Id be interested in going, he said.
Mr. Walker, 88, a veteran of the Army Air Corps, has seen some of the monuments in Washington, but Saturdays trip is scheduled to have a more involved itinerary.
Itll be so nice to go and be with some of the last remnants of World War II, Mr. Walker said.
Mr. Flath said Honor Flight will eventually honor veterans from other wars besides those from World War II and Korea.
But if theres any veteran from any conflict who is terminally ill, well put them right to the top of the list, he said.
He added that the navigators on Saturdays trip were requested to donate $200.
I think well probably have to increase that next year, he said. The costs keep going up. Were borderline of not being in the black.
Mr. Flath became involved in Honor Flight after he traveled as a navigator in 2007, accompanying his father in a flight from Rochester.
It meant so much to me that I wanted to see if I could get something like that started in Syracuse, he said. It took a while, but weve got a good group of people on board.
He said the trips help to spread the word about the sacrifices the veterans made.
They just figured it was something they had to do the right thing to do, Mr. Flath said. They left their families, they left their jobs, got on a boat or plane and went to who knows where in order to walk into hells gate. They came home and went on their way and half of them never talked about it.
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Here is a list of north country residents who will take part in Saturdays trip, according to Syracuse Honor Flight:
Robert Holland, Brownville, Wesley Gilman, Dexter, Robert Williams, Leo Ingerson, Clint Frickman, Richard Hof, Joseph Bogonian and Robert Hughes, all of Clayton, John Ducat, Alexandria Bay, T. Urling Walker and Edward Flanigan, both from Watertown, and Charles Wardwell, Sackets Harbor.
Mr. Flath said there will be a welcome-home ceremony at the airport when the group returns at approximately 5:30 or 6 p.m. Saturday.
Currents editor Judy Goodfriend Jacobs contributed to this report.