A donation of more than $20,000 from independent Budweiser distributors across Montana puts the next Big Sky Honor Flight closer to reality.
Wholesalers met with representatives of Big Sky Honor Flight on Thursday, Oct. 4, to present the nonprofit group with a check for $20,575.87. The donation represents a substantial share of the purchase of each case of Budweiser sold in Montana in May, June, July and August. It also represents a statewide commitment by the wholesalers to sending World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial.
“We just felt that this was something we needed to do and wanted to do,” said Bruce Jensen, beer sales manager for Intermountain Distributing.
Big Sky Honor Flight’s mission is to recognize World War II veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C., — at no cost to them — to see their memorial. Top priority is given to terminally ill veterans. About 190 veterans have already made trips to Washington as part of the Honor Flight program. The contributions made through Budweiser purchases and through other donations will help keep the flights going until all Montana World War II veterans who apply can complete one last mission.
The Budweiser donation moves the program a big step closer to a third flight in the spring, committee members said. Two tours of Big Sky Honor Flight veterans have already been to Washington, D.C. and back. Another 256 World War II veterans are on the waiting list, so as many as three more flights might be needed.
Memories from the flights are priceless and each veteran has felt honored to be a part of it, said Bill Kennedy, vice president of Big Sky Honor Flight.
“The tears that came as soon as we arrived back in Billings said it all,” Kennedy said. “When they saw the 500-plus people cheering them on and they said, ‘this is for us?’ We’re 60 to 70 years late on giving them the homecoming they deserve, but we’re making good on it.”
The trips include stops at important memorials and landmarks in the Washington area including Arlington National Cemetery. The highlight of the trip will be a stop at the National World War II Memorial, which was opened in 2004 and serves as a tribute to the 16 million Americans who served during the war.
The overall fundraising continues as Big Sky Honor Flight aims to get another two or three flights scheduled from Montana over the next two years. About $152,000 is needed to get each flight off the ground.
Through the Honor Flight Network, veterans are flown to see their monument on a “first-come, first-serve basis” with preference given to terminally ill veterans.