Every few months, at zero dark thirty, T.F. Green Airport is transformed into a dramatic patriotic scene with firefighter escorts, police honor guards, Scout troops, and cheering spectators.

This regularly scheduled conversion takes place to recognize Rhode Island military veterans participating in the Honor Flight program.

The Rhode Island Honor Flight is part of a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 2005 with the mission of transporting military veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at select memorials throughout the capital. When the national group was founded, top priority was given to World War II veterans, who are dying now at a rate of about 640 every day. This invitation has since been extended to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The Honor Flight program landed in the Ocean State in 2012 through the efforts of retired Providence Fire Chief George S. Farrell, with the support of former Westerly Fire Chief David A. Sayles, who served as an Army combat infantryman in Vietnam.

In 2011 Farrell was flying home when he witnessed his first Honor Flight greeting at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. As he relayed to me, “I was very moved by what I saw and I thought of my dad George F. Farrell Jr., a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII (Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient) and thought that he would have loved something like what I was witnessing. I came home, did the research to find out what Honor Flight was all about. I was fire chief of the Providence Fire Department, so I went to the R.I. Fire Chiefs, where I was the past president, and presented what I found out about Honor Flight to them and asked them for support to start a hub in Rhode Island.” 

It took one year for the state to be recognized as an Honor Flight Hub. Since 2012, our local hub has taken 469 WWII veterans, 99 Korean War veterans, and 5 Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C. These flights are at no cost to the veteran, and are made possible through local donations.

At 5:15 a.m. on April 6, T.F. Green will once again undergo a patriotic transformation for the send-off of Honor Flight “Victory,” the first all-female veteran flight from Rhode Island. The flight will carry 45 women veterans and their personal guardians. I am thrilled to announce that I have been selected as one of the veterans for this flight.

The guardian who accompany me is a former Marine. I myself served with the Army for 23 years. On our most recent visit we shared our excitement of being selected for this historic event. This flight has been made possible with a generous donation from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Rhode Island. Their donation will cover the expenses of every veteran and guardian. Our welcome home will be at 10:30 p.m. on April 6. The public is invited to the send-off and welcome-home festivities.

In support of Honor Flight Victory, Freedom Friday at Sons of Liberty, a fundraiser, will be held at Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Co., 1425 Kingstown Road, South Kingstown, on Friday, March 29, from 5 to 10 p.m. Mickey Lamantia, an Adult Correctional Institutions guard who doubles as a country music songwriter and recording artist, will perform that night.

Future Honor Flights are Honor Flight “Whiskey”, sponsored by the McShawns Pub Back Porch Veterans Association, of Cranston, on June 1; and Honor Flight “X-Ray,” sponsored by Pappas Physical and Hand Therapy, Johnston and North Providence, on Sept. 14.

As of 2005, a total of 200,588 veterans have benefited from these Honor Flights through 131 nationwide hubs. Your tax-deductible donations will continue to make these flights possible and can be sent to Chief George S. Farrell (retired), chairman, Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Honor Flight Hub, P.O. Box 28132, Providence, 02908.

Thank you, Honor Flight, for recognizing our nation’s veterans. Thank you Chief Farrell for making these flights possible from Rhode Island.

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