Red Cross Celebrates Honor Flight Connecticut’s Inaugural Flight

By Memo Alejandro, American Red Cross

In the early morning hours of Saturday, October 5, 23 World War II Veterans arrived at Bradley International Airport to be welcomed by hundreds of supporters, including volunteers at the American Red Cross. You could feel the excitement in the air with the anticipation of the arrival of the veterans. An army of volunteers were getting everything ready for the welcoming ceremonies, ensuring every detail was in place to honor the heroes who were about to arrive.

The excitement grew as the motorcade of buses, fire truck and flag waving motorcycles from the Patriot Guard arrived at the terminal shortly before 6:30 am (0630 hrs. in

Honor Flight 1
Red Cross volunteers get ready to send off WWII heroes on Honor Flight Connecticut.

military terms).

The pomp and circumstance was warranted to welcome these veterans who were arriving to board a plane to our nation’s capital to view monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifice for our country. This very special trip was organized by Honor Flight Connecticut. The mission of Honor Flight is to honor our veterans by transporting them to Washington D.C., so they can visit and reflect at the memorials that honor them. This organization is proud to join 131 other hubs across the nation in 45 states servicing our veterans.

Matt Sparks, founder of Honor Flight Connecticut, has been working for several month to begin an Honor Flight hub in Connecticut. “The Red Cross was a monumental partner after making the decision to start the hub in Connecticut.” said Matt.

To better accomplish the Honor Flight mission and serve military veterans in the State of

Honor Flight 2
Honor Flight Connecticut supporters at Bradley International Airport for the veteran sendoff.

Connecticut, Honor Flight of Connecticut was formed in April 2019 as an official hub of the National Honor Flight Network. But forming this hub was truly a group effort and the Red Cross in Connecticut was proud to play a role in helping this project come to fruition.

The connection to Honor Flight and the Red Cross fell into place once Matt moved to Connecticut and resumed volunteer activities with the Red Cross. Matt was a volunteer with the Red Cross in Eastern New York, delivering blood products for hospital patients in need. Once settling in to his new home, Matt resumed his volunteer work with the Red Cross in Connecticut hoped to get the Honor Flight hub off the ground but knew he would need some help getting started. Matt was able to connect with Jan Radke, director of Services to the Armed Forces and Lee Radke, volunteer partner to Jan and a veteran himself. Upon hearing about the idea, Jan and Lee were very excited and worked with Matt to figure out how to make the Connecticut hub happen. Jan reached out to Richard Branigan, chief operating officer for the region and huge supporter of military families and veterans. Once he heard about the mission of Honor Flight, he was in.

“Everyone jumped right in to provide much needed help,” Matt said. “I got three for the price of one!”

Through the effort of Richard, Jan and Lee, the Red Cross provided wheelchairs for the veterans, goodie bags, and volunteers for the veteran sendoff and welcome to the airport.

On the morning of October 5, 2019, Matt’s vision finally came through. With the help of his son, Matt addressed the crowd assembled for the sendoff, emphasizing the courage, pride, and dedication of this group of veterans that had served our nation. Watching the crowd, one could see in the eyes of not only our veterans, but also their families, a sense of accomplishment, honor, and pride in serving the nation. A large assembly of military personnel, media, Red Crossers, families, and friends lined up and the veterans were on their way.

Lots of tears of joy among the families, escorts, and friends during the short but

Honor FLight 3
Heroes welcome upon their return from their day in Washington, D.C.

impressive ceremony.

The emotion in the room was palpable for the sendoff as family, friends, and community members gave thanks to the veterans. “It’s an honor and privilege to be here; it’s awesome to escort my father in this memorable flight to Washington D.C.” said Beth Bochiccio of Farmington, Connecticut.

When the flight landed in our nation’s capital, the veterans were greeted to another surprise. The Red Cross in Maryland was there to welcome our heroes to Washington, D.C. “We wanted to be sure that these heroes felt supported and appreciated every step of the way,” said Richard Branigan. “It is an honor and privilege for us, at the Red Cross, to serve our veterans.

The heroes’ welcome continued upon their return to Connecticut at 11 p.m. that evening after what was sure to have been an emotional, but inspiring day for these veterans.

For more information about Honor Flight Connecticut click here. To learn more about how the Red Cross supports military families and veterans visit redcross.org.

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