Honor Flights for the Greatest Generation
By Lorri Lewis
In the time it takes you to read this article, three World War II veterans will die.
Approximately 1.1 million veterans are living in the U.S., but they are dying at a rate of more than 550 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In an effort to honor these heroes of The Greatest Generation before they pass away, Wisconsin Energy Corporation is partnering with Stars and Stripes Honor Flight (SSHF).
The SSHF organization charters 747s to fly Wisconsin veterans to Washington, D.C., and then escorts them to the memorial built in their honor. For most veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, it’s an emotional visit to the massive granite and fountain memorial. Sadly, for many, it will be their last trip to see it.
SSHF was founded in 2008 with $250 in donations. With solid support from the Milwaukee community and surrounding areas, and donations from corporate sponsors like Wisconsin Energy, the organization has flown nearly 3,000 World War II and Korean War veterans to the nation’s capital.
Wisconsin Energy Corporation played a significant role during World War II. Its corporate headquarters building in downtown Milwaukee was home to a major interurban railway at the time. It was used as a terminal for troops being deployed to Fort Sheridan and the Great Lakes Naval Station. The company put up signs on the trolley cars that used the terminal, urging everyone to buy war bonds. Also, the company’s auditorium was used to host draftee training and USO dances.
One thousand Wisconsin Energy employees were deployed during World War II. Sixteen died serving their country.
With the corporation’s past ties to the war effort, Wisconsin Energy Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gale Klappa says being able to now honor the men and women who served is an honor in and of itself.
“Over the years, many of us have come to realize how important it is to thank a generation that made tremendous sacrifices—sacrifices that allow us to live in freedom today. We’re proud to support the mission of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight as our way of expressing that gratitude.”
Through grants from the Wisconsin Energy Foundation, hundreds of veterans continue to be honored. To date, the organization has funded SSHF flights and sponsored a salute to The Greatest Generation at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. During this event, the documentary, Honor Flight; One Last Mission, was shown to the nearly 30,000 people in attendance. The film follows veterans through their sometimes heart-wrenching memories of World War II, their trips aboard Stars and Stripes Honor Flights, and their tear-filled reactions to seeing the impressive World War II memorial.
“These are people who didn’t feel like they were heroes. They provided an incredible service for our country. They served because they felt it was the right thing to do,” says Klappa.
The docudrama was funded, in part, by the Wisconsin Energy Foundation. All of the proceeds from the Miller Park event fund future flights of the SSHF program.
Wisconsin Energy serves more than 1.1 million electric customers and 1.1 million natural gas customers. Many of its consumers agree that SSHF is worthy of the company’s support.
“Many of our customers are veterans themselves or relatives of those who have served, and they truly appreciate our dedication to this cause. We had a sellout crowd at Miller Park for the debut of the Honor Flight movie. So the whole community has really embraced this effort,” said Klappa.
We Energies and the Wisconsin Energy Foundation have also been instrumental in the publication of a book of emotionally- charged photographs depicting the veterans’ journeys on their Honor Flights. The images have been culled from five years of trips to Washington with the heroes of The Greatest Generation.
“We really do owe this generation a tremendous debt of gratitude for their valor. Their sacrifice changed the world,” concludes Klappa.