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'Unbelievably moving': Special Honor Flight sends veterans with dementia, terminal illness to D.C.

'Unbelievably moving': Special Honor Flight sends veterans with dementia, terminal illness to D.C.
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'Unbelievably moving': Special Honor Flight sends veterans with dementia, terminal illness to D.C.

MADISON, Wis. - Two veterans are back home in Wisconsin after a first-of-its-kind Badger Honor Flight.

Usually, about five flights a year take nearly 100 veterans each to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials standing in their honor. Monday's flight was organized for veterans who are terminally ill and/or dealing with dementia, along with their guardians.

The big day may have started at 4:30 a.m., but it's never too early to begin the trip of a lifetime.

"It's just amazing," Vietnam veteran Richard James said.

"(It was) definitely worth it," said Mark Manning, the son-in-law of Frank Shakespeare, a World War II veteran.

At the end of the long day, family and friends gathered for a return party at the VFW post nearest the airport, awaiting the return of James and Shakespeare.

"I think it means quite a lot," said James Wilson, a friend of Shakespeare's. "Frank has been such a good friend of ours for a while now. We wanted to come and clap and cheer when he made his way back from the Honor flight."

The veterans arrived back from a donated charter flight about 7:30 p.m. with an experience they likely would have missed out on otherwise. 

"This one's particularly great for Frank. His memory isn't what it used to be," Wilson said. "The fact that this special plane went to take he and a couple veterans with other health situations, what a great idea. It's a fantastic way to take and help him get to D.C. and really enjoy the day."

The Badger Honor Flight has a waitlist of more than 1,300, but volunteers put together the trip to keep the terminally ill veterans from waiting any longer – waiting to see the memorials honoring the years of their lives they poured into service and to receive the recognition that for some, has been a long time coming.

"As you know, the Vietnam veterans, when they came back were not welcomed good. Now they're getting a pretty good welcome when they come back," Badger Honor Flight volunteer Gary Duerst said. "It's pretty emotional for me, too, that they're enjoying the trip and it's happy for them,"

"It was exciting," said Manning, who is also a veteran. "It was an unbelievably moving event for us both. To honor him, a World War II veteran, to take him around and see the memorials and then have so many people show their gratitude for his service, it was really special."

It was a trip worth the wait that came just in time.

"The Honor Flight people are amazing. The things they do for our veterans is just remarkable," Manning said.  "It was a really special trip."

The trip was sponsored by the Dan and Patti Rashke Family Foundation.

Four veterans were slated to attend, but one went to the hospital Sunday, and his friend chose to stay with him, according to Duerst.

More information on the Badger Honor Flight trips can be found here.

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