Baucus Asks Senate to Join Him in Welcoming Montana WWII Veterans
Senator to Visit WWII Memorial with Big Sky Honor Flight Veterans
Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012
Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012
(Washington, DC) - Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus today asked the entire Senate to join him in welcoming the Big Sky Honor Flight veterans to Washington, D.C. this weekend. Baucus will join the 95 Montana World War II veterans this Saturday when they visit the World War II Memorial in Washington. Baucus volunteered at an event to build support for the Honor Flight in Billings this March.
"Students, friends, neighbors and businesses pooled together more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to make this happen. In today's tough times, when families are struggling to make ends meet, pooling together that kind of contribution is no small feat. This will be the first Honor Flight from Montana, but I know it won't be the last. I know because I've seen the passion and dedication of these volunteers first hand," Baucus said on the Senate floor.
"This honor flight visit is larger than just a thank you to our World War II vets. It shows the commitment we as Americans consider a sacred obligation to all of our veterans. From those who served on the frozen battlefields of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the deserts of Iraq, and to those who, on this very day, are fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan. I ask the Senate to join me in welcoming these heroes to our nation's capital this weekend."
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Baucus' complete statement follows below.
Floor Statement of Senator Max Baucus
June 14, 2012
George Washington once said, "The willingness of future generations to serve in our military will be directly dependent upon how we have treated those who have served in the past."
Tomorrow, 95 World War II veterans will fly from Montana to Washington to see their memorial with their own eyes for the first time.
This trip is made possible by the Big Sky Honor Flight program. Their mission is to recognize American Veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C. to see their memorials at no cost.
These veterans, and the volunteers who helped send them here, say a lot about what makes the United States of America the greatest country on earth.
Who are these veterans? Their average age is 90. They hail from all parts of our state. From Plentywood to Superior. From Miles City to Libby. And many places in between. Each veteran has a story to tell.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bill Smith left his job as an accountant in Billings and volunteered to fly B-24 Liberator bombers with the 466th Bomb Group.
Bill went on to fly 30 missions over Europe from 1943 to 1945. He rose through the ranks and eventually took command of an entire crew.
On a typical day, Bill and his crew would rise at four a.m., eat a quick breakfast and receive a mission brief. As crew commander, Bill was responsible for seeing to it that the bomber safely navigated enemy airspace, accomplished its mission on time and on target, and returned to base safely.
Bill's B-24 flew at 22,000 feet in sub-zero temperatures in non-pressurized cabins. Just think about that. We aren't talking about the cozy airplane cabins you and I are used to today. We are talking about open air - really loud and really cold.
Now imagine, if you can, doing all that with Nazi fighters on your tail. In one instance, incoming enemy fire shot the oxygen mask right off of the face of one of the gunners on Bill's crew
Bill is 96 now. When asked about his service he said: "I am proud of what we did. I know we hit a lot of targets. That's what we were there for. We weren't there for a joy ride."
In March, I had the privilege of meeting Del Olson from Billings. Del was born and raised on a farm in Rapleje, Montana.
In 1944, Del joined the Women's Army Corps as an airplane mechanic. The Women's Army Corps was the first female unit, besides nurses, to serve within the ranks of the United States Army. They were patriots and trailblazers. And like all trailblazers, their service didn't come without controversy.
But Del didn't let the controversy get in the way of her mission. She dedicated herself to fixing up bomber aircraft in Texas -- including the B-24 Liberator that Bill Smith was flying over Europe.
Later in the War, Del moved to Bakersfield, California where she worked as a nurse caring for the countless wounded warriors.
Now, at age 92, when you ask Del about her service, she will tell you, "I didn't do much during the War. Others did so much more."
Del's humility is a testament to what real selfless service looks like. When Del visits the World War II memorial, she plans to pay her respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the War.
Del said she will think of her brothers, and sister, who all served under General Eisenhower in Europe. She especially wants to honor her first and second husbands, both of whom served in the South Pacific during the War.
Honor Flight is making it all possible. But trips like this don't just happen. They're the result of a lot of hard work.
Kathy Shannon, Beth Bouley, Tina Vauthier, Chris Reinhard, Vicky Steven, Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, and countless other volunteers have all been instrumental in organizing Montana's first honor flight.
Students, friends, neighbors and businesses pooled together more than $150,000 to make this happen. In today's tough times, when families are struggling to make ends meet, pooling together that kind of contribution is no small feat.
This will be the first Honor Flight from Montana, but I know it won't be the last. I know because I've seen the passion and dedication of these volunteers first hand. In March, I had the incredible opportunity to pitch in by serving burgers at a fundraiser in Billings. It was a lot of fun. And it was truly inspiring to see our young Montanans demonstrate the spirit of service.
Students from the Huntley Project Schools raised an amazing $2,425 to make this flight happen. And, in the process, they learned invaluable lessons about the sacrifices that made it possible for them grow up in a country that was strong and free.
This honor flight visit is larger than just a thank you to our World War II vets. It shows the commitment we as Americans consider a sacred obligation to all of our veterans. From those who served on the frozen battlefields of Korea. To the jungles of Vietnam. To the deserts of Iraq. And to those who, on this very day, are fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan.
I ask the Senate to join me in welcoming these heroes to our nation's capital this weekend. And a special thanks to all 18,000 World War II veterans living in Montana. We are forever grateful for your service and your sacrifice.
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