IT’S BEEN CALLED The Greatest Generation; those who lived during the great depression and fought in World War II. Tom Brokaw, in his book by the same name, stated that the men and women of that era fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.
But it was not until 2004 that those who fought in the last war that truly threatened our nation’s existence were honored with a memorial of their own. Located in Washington, D.C., the Memorial pays tribute to the16 million Americans who served in the World War II armed forces, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Unfortunately, those to whom the memorial is dedicated are elderly, often making travel both financially and physically prohibitive. In fact, according to the Veterans’ Administration, approximately 640 World War II veterans die each day.
Thankfully for WWII veterans here in the Inland Northwest, students at Sandpoint High School have worked diligently for the last two years to ensure that those who desire to visit the Memorial have the opportunity to do so. Through a national organization called Honor Flight, veterans are flown to Washington D.C. on a guided tour of the Memorial and given an opportunity to reflect, honor, and remember.
Sandpoint High School teacher John Nitcy formed the Honor Flight Club at SHS after visiting Washington, D.C. “I walked away from there thinking ‘what can I do to help?’” said Nitcy.
The approximately 20 members of the high school’s Honor Flight Club raise funds to help send veterans on the trip. It costs approximately $1000 to send one person and to date the club has raised approximately $7220, with a goal of $10,000 by June 2015.
“It’s a whirlwind trip,” said junior Logan Finney, who has been in the club since his freshman year. “It is great when you go to the airport to welcome them back and you see how emotional it was and how much the trip meant to them.”
One motivating factor for Logan to join was that when he first learned of the club, his great grandfather, a World War II veteran, had just passed away. “I never got to hear many of his stories,” said Logan, who has since enjoyed interacting with the veterans he has met.
Madie Slaton-Sanford is a senior at SHS and has been very involved with the club. In addition to raising money and meeting the veterans when they arrive home from their trip, Madie said she also enjoys learning from them. “We try to interact with them as much as we can. We know they are getting up there in age,” she said. “We need to give them more attention. They did amazing things.”
Both Logan and Madie agree that the World War II veterans they have met are very humble and do not talk much about their experience. “They did their job, threw their duffle bag down and went on with their lives,” said Logan of the veterans when they returned home from the war.
Honor Flight Club has made such an impression on Madie that she plans to launch a similar group when she attends Carroll College next year.
The support of the community has been amazing. John Nitcy said both former SHS Principal Becky Meyer and current Principal Tom Albertson have done much to support his efforts. He also gives credit to Steve Furin, manager of Super 1 Foods in Sandpoint, for his willingness to allow the students to promote the organization at his store where they frequently sell wristbands displaying the words Honor Flight.
In addition to the wristbands, the students sell Christmas trees and show a movie each year about Honor Flight, requesting a mere $5 donation. “I’ve had kids walk out of that movie and thank me,” said Nitcy amazed at the impact it has on the students.
To further their fundraising efforts, the group is auctioning off a poster from the documentary The War. The poster is signed by the film’s directors, Academy Award nominee and Emmy winner Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. “It is a one of a kind poster,” said Nitcy who said bids can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. “All the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Inland Northwest Honor Flight.”
Nitcy praises the work of the students and said there are interesting stories he learns from many of them. One he shares is the story of Emma Weisz. “She is always there willing to lend a hand,” said Nitcy who explained that Emma’s grandfather was born in Germany but fought for the U.S. during the war and served as an interpreter.
It is not clear on whom the Honor Flight Club has made the most impact the students, teacher John Nitcy, or the veterans. But one thing is for certain; they all are grateful for the opportunity to give and to learn from one another.
“These guys saved the world,” said Nitcy of the World War II veterans. “These kids get to shake hands with history. It is their last chance to be part of this and to say thank you.”
To make a donation, mail it to Sandpoint High School Honor Flight Club :
Attn: John Nitcy, 410 South Division,
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864.
You can also learn more by logging onto their website: shshonorflight.weebly.com.