Tim Downey of Honor Flight speaks at library 2012.03.21

Written by David Green.

honor flight downeyThe memories of World War II get pushed back further into history, said Tim Downey. It’s now two generations removed and will soon seem as distant as World War I or the Civil War appear to Americans now.

The purpose of Honor Flight was to acknowledge and salute the generation that served in World War II. This was accomplished by flying World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for a day free of charge to visit the World War II memorial and other sights.

Downey, the producer of the film “Honor Flight Michigan: the Legacy,” showed the movie to an audience last week at Stair Public Library and then spoke about the making of the documentary.

Downey said that Michigan’s Honor Flight program was the most successful in the country, sending nearly three times as many veterans to Washington, D.C, as any other state. Michigan has the largest population of veterans still living in their home state.

When the program began, organizers thought they might transport a hundred veterans, but in the end, nearly 1,600 made the trip. With the auto industry booming after the war, many returning veterans came to Michigan for a job.

The Michigan program is not currently transporting veterans, but when it was in operation, 35 to 50 veterans were typically taken on a flight, along with a guardian for every one or two veterans. Assistance was needed throughout the day to help board the plane and various buses and to assist with meals. Guardians paid $350 to cover their expenses, but the veterans’ costs were covered by donations. Each flight cost in excess of $20,000.

At this time, the number of veterans healthy enough to make the trip continues to shrink, Downey said. World War II vets are now 86 years of age and older.

“It became increasingly difficult to get enough people for a trip,” he said, “and we took everybody that we had applications for.”

With the end of the flights to Washington, Honor Flight Michigan has turned its attention toward the construction of Michigan’s own World War II memorial. Park property is reserved for the project in Royal Oak where Honor Flight Michigan was founded.

“It’s going to be something spectacular,” Downey said. “It will make Michigan proud.”

The monument will celebrate not only the veterans, but also the industry of the state.

“We were the main state in the Union to produce the materials of war,” Downey said.

Munitions, tanks, jeeps, planes, bombs, artillery, guns, armored shields—the war was said to be won by what the auto plants in Michigan produced.

• The DVD can be purchased on-line at honorflightmichigan.com. Various other resources are available, including a collection of more than 7,000 photographs. Information about the monument is also available.

A book and CD about the program and a copy of the DVD are available at Stair Public Library.

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