BILLINGS – Montana no longer has a hub to facilitate “Honor Flights.”
The family of a Billings veteran pulled out all the stops to get him to Washington D.C. so he could see the memorials and landmarks in the nation’s capital, honoring himself and others.
“I was in Headquarters Company, 9th Division, 2nd Infantry,” veteran Stanley Anttila said.
Antilla served as head clerk in the Korean War and just returned home from an Honor Flight.
“I had mentioned it to her and my daughter ended up giving me a trip with her son, Troy Shockley, to D.C.,” Anttila said.
“He mentioned in October, you know I’d kind of like to go. Okay! He doesn’t mention it unless it’s important. It was important for me, because he wanted to go and see it,” Antilla’s daughter Sheryl Shockley said.
So his family decided to make it happen.
“I started digging around, there’s no hub here in Montana and I thought, ‘Okay, well then do we send him to another state?’ I have a son that lives in Washington state,” Shockley said.
“Then I found Jane Julian and the Lone Eagle, which is the program for states that don’t have hubs,” Shockley said.
Southwest Airlines helps to facilitate Honor Flights through the Lone Eagle Program.
Veterans are required to be accompanied by a guardian, whose cost to attend is around $450.
“Of course there is no cost for the veterans,” Shockley said.
The Honor Flights take Vietnam, Korea, and World War II veterans on a full scheduled tour of some of the major monuments.
The group got celebrity treatment, with police escorts for their bus, and countless people approaching them for photos, and to thank them.
They took part in a “mail call,” where people had sent fan mail to the veterans to open one of the evenings.
Antilla received many from students at Ben Steele Middle School. Organizers of the event ensured that each veteran had a piece of mail to open.
“It’s kind of a nice thought,” Antilla said. “Just like when you’re in the service and get mail.”
The group also got to witness the Changing of The Guard, and experience the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Navy Memorial and Museum.
“Went to the Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean memorials. Seen that Korean Memorial on there and that’s one that I really wanted to see,” Antilla said.
Sheryl surprised her father yet again, by flying down to meet them and experience the memorial together.
“The Korean one really impacted because that’s where he served,” Shockley said.
The memorial features a platoon of 19 steel soldiers, representing the 4 branches of the military. There is also a United Nations wall, signifying all those who helped in the Korean Conflict.
“If you’re there at the right time, and the light hits it just right, it looks like those guys in that picture are actually coming out of the wall,” Anttila said.
The Honor Flights also just bring together a group, that understands what the other has gone through.
“Yes, and they could share, and they just sat and talked quietly. Troy said you’d see them in groups and they’d just be talking,” Shockley said.
The flights are a way for the country to give something back to those who were willing to give everything to serve.
“It was a wonderful trip, lots of different things, lots of different people, and just basically had a good time all the way through,”Anttila said.
“In front of the platoon of soldiers at the memorial it says,’Our nation honors our sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew, and a people they never met,’” Shockley said.
To get more information on the Lone Eagle Program or Honor Flights, contact Jane Julian at 614-558-6220.
Shockley encourages urgency, as a limited number of flights are done yearly.
Here’s a list of upcoming flights:
Honor Flight, Inc.
175 South Tuttle Road
Springfield, OH 45505
Reporting by Jenny Fick for MTN News