FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANKENY, IA -- Officials with Hy-Vee today announced plans for another Honor Flight that will take hundreds of World War II veterans to Washington DC to visit the World War II Memorial.
Wes Snook, director of the Ankeny Hy-Vee store, said the Hy-Vee-sponsored flight will take place November 4, just in time for Veteran’s Day. Snook made the announcement at a news conference held at the Ankeny corporate offices of Casey’s General Stores. Casey’s is sponsoring central Iowa’s second Honor Flight on October 13; the first such flight for central Iowa veterans, on August 11, was sponsored by Hy-Vee.
Snook and Hy-Vee directors Andy Streit of West Des Moines and Brett Bremser of Urbandale presented a check for $250,000 to Jeff Ballenger of the nonprofit Central Iowa Honor Flight Committee to cover the expenses of the November flight. The Honor Flights are provided at no cost to the veterans attending.
“The response of our customers and our employee-owners to that first Honor Flight was incredible,” said Snook, who was one of six Hy-Vee representatives who assisted the veterans on the August flight. “It was such a moving experience to fly with 350 World War II heroes and see them visit the monuments to their sacrifice. On the trip home, we all agreed that we have to find a way to send every veteran who wants to be part of an Honor Flight.”
Bill Walljasper, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Casey’s General Stores, provided an update on arrangements for the October 13th flight. Casey’s previously pledged $250,000 toward the expenses of the October flight, and Casey’s stores currently are conducting customer promotions to raise money to fund Honor Flights for veterans in the Sioux City and Quad Cities areas. Walljasper said the September fundraising activities have generated more than $100,000 to date.
Ballenger, of Central Iowa Honor Flight, praised Hy-Vee and Casey’s for their commitment to the Honor Flight program. “If I were an employee of Hy-Vee or Casey’s, I think I’d be walking around with my head held just a little bit higher today,” he said.
He noted that World War II veterans – now in their 80s and 90s – are passing away at the rate of 1,200 a day. If they are to have the opportunity to visit Washington DC, time is of the essence, Ballenger said.
“This is a generation that went off to war, came home and didn’t make a big fuss about their service,” he said. “They didn’t even have a World War II monument in Washington until 2004. Now that it’s built, they deserve an opportunity to visit it and know that people do remember and appreciate their sacrifice.”
Ballenger said the Honor Flight organization has introduced an educational program that involves elementary school children writing letters to the World War II veterans taking part in the Honor Flights. He kicked off the program last week in the Ankeny Middle School and is spreading the word to other schools around the state. The organization is encouraging teachers to have their students write thank-you letters addressed, “To a World War II veteran.” The Honor Flight committee will pick up the letters from the schools and distribute them among the veterans traveling on the Honor Flights.
“I’ve been asked what we’ll do if we’re inundated with letters and the veterans on the plane can’t read them all,” Ballenger said. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as too many thank-you letters for these heroes. If we receive more letters than our veterans can read during the flights, we’ll take them to veterans’ hospitals and homes.”
Ray Chamberlain of Des Moines, who served on a ship in the Pacific during World War II, was one of the veterans who traveled to Washington in August on the first central Iowa Honor Flight. He said the whirlwind trip was “a 25-hour day, but it was the best 25 hours of my life.”
“I came home from the war, went to college and went on with my life, and over time it seemed like nobody remembered or cared about the veterans,” he said. “But when I saw all the people who turned out for the Honor Flight sendoff – men, women, little children, cheering and waving – I realized that people did care. It was all I could do to walk through there without breaking down in tears. Nothing in my life can compare with that experience.”
Leo Cleeton of Des Moines enlisted in the Navy four days before his 18th birthday, in 1943, and served “two years, eight months and seven days” on a ship in the South Pacific. He is scheduled to travel on the October Honor Flight.
“I didn’t get too excited when I first heard about the Honor Flight program,” Cleeton admitted. But talking to two high school friends who had been on Honor Flights changed his mind.
“They have nothing but wonderful things to say about Honor Flight,” Cleeton said. “One of them called me and told me he’s just been diagnosed with cancer and has been given 17 weeks to live, so he’s really glad he went on the flight when he had the chance. Being able to renew those friendships is one of the best things about Honor Flight, and I thank all who are involved in it.”
Applications are now being accepted for the November flight. For more information, visit the Central Iowa Honor Flight website.
Hy-Vee, Inc. is an employee-owned corporation operating 226 retail stores in seven Midwestern states. For 2008 the company recorded total sales of $6.2 billion, ranking it among the top 30 supermarket chains and the top 50 private companies in the United States. Supermarket News, the authoritative voice of the food industry, honored the company with the 2008 Whole Health Enterprise Award for its leadership in providing services and programs that promote a healthy lifestyle.