Midwest Honor Flight endures funding troubles with 500 vets on wait list

For years, the National Honor Flight organization has sent thousands of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. on an all expenses paid trip to give the honor and closure they deserve for their service and sacrifice.

As our local chapter, the Midwest Honor Flight, prepares for its third official mission next month. Five-hundred area veterans sit on a waiting list and funding can often times fall short.

It's a day-long trip of a lifetime for a private flight full of 80 veterans.

"Taking our veterans from WW2, Korea and Vietnam to Washington, D.C. free of charge, charter a flight, give them that honor and closure of seeing their memorials, dedicated to their service and those that have served alongside them who have not returned," Aaron Van Beek said.

Aaron Van Beek is the President and Director of the Midwest Honor Flight, a hub of the National Honor Flight organization. He's led two Honor Flight missions to D.C. since its installation in March 2017.

The most recent Mission was in May 2018.

"For those who are still living, it's something they need to go see, to see that honor, what our country has built on our national mall in their honor to their service of our country, the world," Van Beek said.

Funding for each mission doesn't come easy.

"It's a lot of work $125,000 to raise the money needed for every flight," Van Beek said.

The Midwest Honor Flight team, and its board of directors, is entirely volunteer-based. So every penny raised helps fund the next mission.

"Last week, we were $14,000 show from completing the entire mission and having it paid before the flight," he said.

Funding is the toughest part, he says, because time is of the essence. Veterans are getting older and they deserve this experience. Five-hundred of them sit on a waiting list, many of them won't live to get the opportunity.

"I do get calls all the time from veterans saying 'hey just making sure you got my application' and I say 'yep, two year wait time'. It's difficult to tell them that because they're so excited to go. To give them that honor and closure takes time, donations and funding."

His team actively works year 'round seeking new ways to fund-raise, quickly, so they can book more Honor Flights and give more area veterans one final tour with honor.

"This is the least we can do as the American people, especially in our region, for our brave men and women essentially were ready to give the ultimate sacrifice it's the least we can do for them."

Mission 3 is scheduled for Tuesday, September 25.

There are so many ways to help fund Mission 3 and future missions from donating money to sponsoring a veteran for $675.

The Barrel House in southeast Sioux Falls will hold a fundraiser, with 10% of everything sold benefiting the Midwest Honor Flight.

Find more information on their website, MidwestHonorFlight.org.