Later this month Honor Flight New England will once again send a group of veterans to the nation's capital for a day-long trip to visit the war memorials built in their honor.
What makes this flight unique is when the group takes flight out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the veterans will be accompanied by police and fire personnel from departments across New England.
Organizers believe it may be the first Honor Flight to include first responders anywhere in the country.
'We've never done it before, and I've never read that they've ever done it anywhere in the country before," said Joe Byron, founder of Honor Flight New England.
Manchester Assistant Police Chief Steve Mangone, who assists Byron with organizing and preparing for the flights, said Honor Flight chapters in other parts of the country have hosted flights centered around certain groups.
"I know around the country they've had flights with all female veterans, they've had flights with all Vietnam veterans," Mangone said. "I think this is unique for the country, a first responder flight. We're real excited to do it."
On Oct. 23, 25 veterans who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam will visit their memorials in Washington D.C., escorted by 25 first responders from departments throughout New England, at no cost to them due to the efforts of Honor Flight New England.
The nonprofit's mission is to "honor local war veterans, one mission at a time."
"They open up on these trips," said Byron. "We get a lot of letters from families saying they never heard their stories before. We like to say 'we hug, and we hold and we hear.' And they come back different."
The flight will include participants from the Manchester police and fire departments, Massachusetts and New Hampshire state police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, and others.
"The normal guardians that we take with us, the family guardians, are being supplanted by first responders," said Mangone. "It's pretty unique."
The group includes one World War II veteran, four from the Korean War, and the rest served in Vietnam.
"We're seeing more and more Vietnam guys," said Mangone.
"They're getting sick," added Byron.
Mangone said Vietnam veterans seem surprised with the treatment they receive on the trips.
"They say, '50 years ago we were spit at, mocked ... we were treated like garbage, and you want to do this for us?'" said Mangone.
Over the last 13 years, Honor Flight New England has sent 2,220 veterans on 61 missions to the nation's capital. Mangone said Honor Flight chapters across the country are shutting down, because in their estimation "the mission is complete."
"The World War II guys have all gone, or the ones who can go have gone, and they view it as 'mission accomplished.' We respectfully disagree," Mangone said. "We have guys in their mid to late 70s that served in Vietnam that would like to have this opportunity."
Mangone said anyone wishing to see the veterans and first responders on Oct. 23 are asked to be at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport by 7:15 a.m. for a sendoff, or 11:15 p.m. to welcome them home.
For more information about Honor Flight New England, including how to donate, visit the program's website at https://honorflightnewengland.org/donate/.
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