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Savant has always valued organizations and programs that align with our corporate values. Philanthropy is part of our culture; we believe it is good business to support the areas in which our clients, employees, and offices are located through charitable giving, corporate sponsorships, and volunteerism. One specific organization we are proud to sponsor is Badger Honor Flight. Through this sponsorship, Brent Lindell, a financial advisor in our Madison office, was given the opportunity to serve and honor veterans from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  Here is Brent’s story from his important mission on October 7, 2017.

Close to the Heart

Four years ago, my wife and I packed up our kids and ventured to the Dane County Regional (Madison) Airport on a Saturday night. When we got there, the place was bustling; a roped-off 10-foot wide path ran down the entire length of the terminal. By 9:00 pm, the place was packed; 5,000 people crowded on both sides of the roped-off aisle. By 10:00 pm, an old-fashioned band was playing 1940s tunes, and both the escalator and elevator at the far end of the airport started running.

Coming down the escalator and getting off the elevator were more than 80 veterans. Most were World War II vets, but there were a few Korean War vets mixed in. The vast majority were in their late 80s to early 90s. Some of them came down the elevator in wheelchairs, some came down the escalator standing and then got into wheel chairs, some used canes and walkers, and a few walked unaided. My wife’s grandfather was one of these veterans.

The veterans slowly traversed the length of the airport, down the path, surrounded on both sides by throngs of people clapping, cheering, and more than a few with tears in their eyes. Standing in a crowded terminal with my wife and kids, I felt awe-struck and honored to witness it. That feeling – that strong tug on my heartstrings – is still there when I think about the crowd roaring as these heroes returning from DC walked or rolled their wheelchairs towards their loved ones.

This was the culmination of their day-long Badger Honor Flight to Washington, DC.

The History of Honor Flights

Honor Flights started with six small planes flying out of Springfield, OH in 2005, taking World War II veterans to see the newly completed World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. The originator, Earl Morse, was a retired Air Force captain who now worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Morse saw the World War II Memorial and started asking veterans if they were going to visit their memorial. He quickly recognized the roadblocks (age, health, finances, etc.) that these men faced and came up with a plan to get these veterans to DC.

Today, this has transformed into organized, chartered commercial airlines taking veterans on one-day trips to DC. There are currently 131 Honor Flight Hubs in 45 states staffed entirely by volunteers, including the Badger Honor Flight (BHF) out of the Madison, WI.

Volunteering for a 2017 Badger Honor Flight

Fast forward to 2017. BHF asked if I was interested in being a “volunteer guardian” on one of their flights. Given the age and needs of some veterans, each veteran has an accompanying “guardian” who spends the day with them. Many volunteers are relatives of the veterans.

I am not a veteran, and quite honestly I didn’t feel “worthy” of being a guardian for one of these men. But BHF told me it was an ongoing need for a few guardians to accompany vets who were having trouble finding a guardian. I decided this was an experience I shouldn’t miss, and I signed up for the October 7th, 2017 flight. I’d like to share my day with you.

Transporting Heroes to the Memorials Erected in Their Honor

I arrived at the Dane County Regional Airport at 4:30 am and met my veteran. He had served in the Air Force during Vietnam from 1969 to 1973.

During the welcoming remarks, I learned that the program launched in late 2005 and the 2,500th veteran to go on BHF was on my trip. They have cycled through most of the WWII veterans still with us and also has taken a significant number of Korean veterans. If I have my numbers right, there were 4 WWII, 22 Korean, and 62 Vietnam veterans on my flight.

After a two-hour flight, we arrived in Washington, DC to a breathtaking welcome. There was a band at the Reagan National and a line of people waiting to greet us; we saw everything from former Wisconsinites now living in DC to Cub/Boy Scout troops there to honor our vets.

The Veteran I accompanied served in the Airforce during Vietnam from 1969 to 1973.

Our group boarded four large buses and our busy day began. Everywhere we went, we had an escort by the Capitol Police. They stopped traffic for us, they put us through intersections without regard to traffic signals, and we were allowed to “park” directly in front of each place we visited. We first drove through the front gates of Arlington National Cemetery and walked around a bit before watching the “Changing of the Guard” ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Monuments on the Washington Mall

We then drove to the Air Force Memorial. From the overview of this memorial, you can see the discoloration of the Pentagon a few hundred yards away from where Flight #77 struck the building on 9/11.

We proceeded to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial Wall, and Korean War Memorial. Probably one of my most memorable moments of this trip was watching eight of our veterans line up for a photo in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall; you see, this group had served in the same infantry unit in Vietnam and had planned to go on this trip together.

This group had served in the same infantry unit in Vietnam and had planned to go on this trip together.

After another short ride, we pulled in front of the World War II Memorial and spent an hour exploring there. By now, we’ve been going for 12+ solid hours and it was clear that some were tiring. We finished our stops with a visit to the FDR Memorial. This was a beautiful setting where we walked through the memorial and took a stroll back to the front of the memorial along a sidewalk right next to the Potomac River.

As the sun set, we drove around Washington to see the Capitol, the White House, and the Smithsonian.

Return Flight Home

Back at the airport, we boarded our plane for an 8:00 pm return to Madison. For the first part of the return flight, the flight attendants dimmed the lights for some much-needed downtime.  After about 45 minutes, the overhead lights came on as “Mail-Call” was announced over the PA system. Every veteran received a large envelope from home, full of cards and letters from friends and family with good wishes and expressions of gratitude.

A Homecoming I Won’t Soon Forget

We all deplaned around 9:30 pm. It is awe-inspiring to stand at the top of an escalator and see 5,000 people cheering our return. I hope that the veteran I accompanied (and all the veterans on the plane) felt the well-deserved recognition of their service. I personally felt privileged for the experience I had that day.

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