PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The coronavirus pandemic dealt a devastating blow to a program meant to honor the nation’s veterans.
The Rhode Island Honor Flight initially postponed several of its planned trips due to the pandemic, but on Friday, the organization announced that all remaining trips would be canceled.
Rhode Island Honor Flight Chairman George Farrell said this means 100 veterans, who were slated to travel to Washington, D.C. this year, will have to wait until it is safe to do so next year.
“We had veterans who didn’t see each other from when they were shot down. We’ve had veterans they were with say, ‘When did your parents find out you were dead?’ because they were shot down and their parents got messages at home. It took a while for them to get back from behind enemy lines to where they needed to be,” Farrell said.
Those are the kinds of stories Farrell said he hears during the 17-hour trips he takes with area veterans. Since 2012, more than 500 World War II veterans, 150 Korean War veterans and 15 Vietnam War veterans have taken an Honor Flight with the Rhode Island program.
Last year, Rhode Island had its first all-female Honor Flight, and this March, Honor Flight Yankee was set to take off.
“For the March flight that we postponed, we had met them [the veterans going] just two weeks before on March 8,” Farrell said. “We met all of them in preparation for the flight.”
Initially, Farrell said they postponed the trip until June, which would coincide with another flight scheduled for D-Day. But then those flights were pushed to September.
Then earlier this week, the Honor Flight Network announced it’s postponing all of its trips for 2020 because of the coronavirus.
“It’s the population that you just don’t want to take that kind of risk, when it’s already a difficult proposition when you’re taking someone out for 17 hours,” he said.
Farrell said while the decision to cancel is the right one, it’s also devastating.
“Unfortunately, given their ages and their medical conditions, they [World War II veterans] die, 600 to 800 every single day,” he said. “So our opportunity to take them on that flight, their opportunity to go, diminishes with time.”
Farrell said he envisions the first couple of flights next year to be held sometime in March, with another round near the end of May or early June.
Anyone who knows a veteran who would be interested in attending an Honor Flight next year can apply online.