First Post-Pandemic Northern Panhandle Veterans Memorial Flight Headed To DIA


Veterans Caravan Arriving At SB Elks photo-Dave Strang

      The 13th Veterans Memorial Flight from the Northern Panhandle to Washington, DC, leaves Chadron this morning, traveling in a caravan to Denver for the actual flight tomorrow.

Making the trip are 14 veterans, each accompanied by a companion called a Guardian – and 2 overall chaperones.

Ten of the veterans are leaving from Chadron with 4 joining the group in Scottsbluff.

     The flights are organized by a local non-profit, Veterans Memorial Flight, Inc. Spokesman Pat Mracek says there’s a Send-Off Ceremony this morning before the caravan of donated SUVs and vans leave.

 Businessman Rob Wahlstrom and attorney Marty Connealy began the local program after seeing stories about the National Honor Flight program, created to take WWII veterans to the nation’s capital to see the then-new WWII Memorial.

     Although the local group used the term Honor Flight for several years, Mracek says it’s not actually part of the national organization – although the local veterans do join the DC tours put on by Honor Flight.

The first several Northern Panhandle flights were all WW-II veterans, but Mracek believes all the WW-II and Korea-era veterans in the area that are interested and capable of making the trip have done so. This trip is entirely Vietnam-era vets.

     The trips don’t cost the veterans or guardians. Dawes County Veterans Service Officer Gary Bridges says that’s possible because of donations from businesses, organizations, and individuals.

Multiple law enforcement agencies will escort the veterans caravan to the Denver airport, as well members of the American Legion Riders and similar veterans motorcycle groups. 

     Pat Mracek is encouraging Chadron area residents to find a spot along Bordeaux or 3rd Streets to wave to the veterans as they pass before heading south on Highway 385. 

Past caravans have often been met with similar displays as they pass by or through other towns en route.