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Minnesota National Guard
First Northland Honor Flight lifts off today

More than 100 World War II veterans were scheduled to board a plane early today for the first Honor Flight from Duluth to Washington, DC, where they will tour memorials honoring their efforts and sacrifices and those of other Americans

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
Published May 14, 2011, 12:02 AM

More than 100 World War II veterans were scheduled to board a plane early today for the first Honor Flight from Duluth to Washington, DC, where they will tour memorials honoring their efforts and sacrifices and those of other Americans

Among the veterans is Dan Laurila of Duluth, who as a young Army tank driver fought his way across North Africa and Italy

“I went over to Italy and retraced my steps last fall,” he said “It was a real experience to go back over the country we traveled over 67 years ago

“This is another retracing thing,” he said of today’s trip “It will be nice to see the World War II Memorial I’ll meet a lot of guys who were in the service It’s something I’m really looking forward to”

Earlier this week, Gerry Herrington, co-chairman of the Honor Flight Northland Hub, said it will be surreal to see Laurila and his fellow veterans arriving at Duluth International Airport early today

“We have been working on this thing for months,” he said “It’s pretty amazing it has finally come”

The veterans are scheduled to leave Duluth at 6:30 am, landing at Reagan National Airport at 10 am to be greeted by an Honor Flight ground crew Over the next several hours, the veterans, volunteer handlers and medical personnel will visit these memorials: World War II, Korean War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans, Lincoln, Women in Military Service for America and US Marine Corps War (Iwo Jima) They arrive back in Duluth after 10 pm

The honor flight from Duluth is one of eight such flights from five states to Washington, DC, today
“Typically we have at least one or more — all the way up to eight or 10 — flights a day on 15 to 20 days a month,” from April into November, said Diane Gresse, office director of the Springfield, Ohio-based national nonprofit Honor Flight Network

The first Honor Flight of six small planes carrying 12 World War II veterans from Springfield to Washington happened in May 2005 A total of 137 veterans were flown to Washington that year By the end of 2010, Honor Flight had transported 63,293 veterans to Washington The network has 105 hubs in 34 states

Several people had the idea of forming a Northland hub a couple of years ago At times it seemed the idea would never get off the ground

“In January we looked at each other and wondered if we stood any chance at all of pulling this off,” Herrington said “We had maybe five veterans who had signed up and $3,000 in the bank,” far short of the $90,000 needed to charter a flight to Washington

Then, in early February, the effort received media attention Money, veteran applications and offers of help began pouring in Personnel with the 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth Airport Authority, Monaco Air and Gold Cross all stepped up to help

“Our board of directors is just five people,” Herrington said “To pull off something as large as this needs a lot of extra bodies and help”

Applicants exceeded spots on the plane by about 40 veterans They were put on a waiting list that forms the start of a passenger list for a second Northland Honor Flight, tentatively scheduled for October

“As Saturday gets nearer, we have to keep in mind that we are going to be doing this again,” Herrington said “Eighty percent of the donations we got for this flight came from the private sector We’re going to have to go back out and hold out the hat again”

Laurila found it hard to put into words his feelings about Honor Flight

“I have a lot of thanks and respect,” he said “There are a lot of people who would never be able to go without something like this”

Welcome home

Today’s Honor Flight is expected to return to Duluth International Airport after 10 pm

The returning veterans will be met by the Duluth Combined Honor Guard, a drum and bugle corps, and — event organizers hope — a large crowd of appreciative people

“We want them to bring ‘Welcome Home’ signs and anything they can to welcome these veterans home,” said Durbin Keeney, an Honor Flight Northland Hub board member “We want this to be the biggest celebration and the biggest welcome home these people have ever gotten in their lives”

Keeney asks that people arrive at the terminal by 10 pm Because of space, people are asked to stay on the terminal’s main floor to greet the veterans as they descend from the second-story gate area

To learn more

The Honor Flight Northland Hub already is planning to take a second group of veterans to Washington, DC, perhaps in October For more information on the group, how to apply for a space on the flight, or to make a donation, go to honorflightnorthlandorg Donations can be mailed to Honor Flight Northland, Attn: Don Monaco, 4535 Airport Approach Road, Duluth, MN 55811

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