North Country Honor Flight begins regular schedule of flights this weekend
The North Country Honor Flight, which flies veterans to war memorials in Washington D.C., resumes this weekend after a pause due to the pandemic.
Since it was formed in 2013, North Country Honor Flight has taken 525 veterans to visit memorials in the
nation’s capital. Three to five flights had been flown annually with each carrying 14 veterans and their guardians along with a flight leader and a medical professional.
The pandemic forced a halt for a year and a limited schedule in 2021. Last year, North Country Honor Flight was able to schedule two trips. Just eight of the 130 chapters across the country were able to offer flights.
This year, the North Country team is planning eight flights to convey a total of 120 veterans in May, June, September and October.
Executive Director Barrie Finnegan says as the organization gears up for full operations, it is now chartering planes rather than using the commercial operator at Plattsburgh International Airport.
“We ended up chartering our flights to suit our schedule for our needs,” Finnegan said. “A little more expensive, actually a lot more expensive, but that was the downside. A lot of good sides to that though. We got a great charter company that works with us well and for the ease and the convenience and not having to deal with TSA it’s worth it. It’s a great step in the right direction. It adds a lot of time to our day. We’re not quite so rushed from one memorial to the other and we don’t really have a deadline. If we’re a little late getting back to the plane it’s still our plane.”
Honor Flight will also send two flights to Washington on each scheduled date allowing 60 people to travel each day.
Former state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, North Country Honor Flight’s Director of Operations, says there is a long wait list and it’s hoped having multiple flights will help get veterans on the planes.
“As of this past week we have 174 on our waiting list,” Duprey said. “We still continue and always will give preference to WWII and Korean War veterans. Most of them are right around in their 90’s. And then the Vietnam veterans. It’s very sad some of the Vietnam veterans have been waiting since 2017–2018, and really putting an emphasis on getting them out as quickly as we can. And veterans over the age of 80 who are on that waiting list and anybody who’s ill.”
North Country organizers hold a ceremonial sendoff with a motorcycle, police and first responder escort to the terminal. Duprey believes the region’s military history has contributed to strong community support for the nonprofit and area veterans.
“We’re a military community,” Duprey said. “They may have taken Plattsburgh Air Force Base away from us but not really. You know we still have people who have strong ties to the military community here going back to the Battle of Plattsburgh. We respect our veterans. You know and we say ‘North Country’, we’re quite an expanded area. A WWII veteran who was on our flight last year was from just south of the Albany capital, so Ogdensburg and Massena and through Vermont. ‘North Country’ is whatever we want it to be.”
The North Country Honor Flight sendoff ceremony begins Saturday at 7 a.m. at Veterans Park on the U.S. Oval on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.