WASHINGTON — An ongoing campaign to ferry Nebraska's Korean War veterans to the nation's capital got a big boost Thursday from a surprise $90,000 donation.
Bill and Evonne Williams previously helped organize Honor Flights that took more than 1,500 World War II veterans to see their memorial on the National Mall. Now the Williamses are working to provide the same experience to Korean War veterans, with the first group making its trip here last week.
An additional 400 veterans remain on the waiting list, but it had been unclear how long it would take to get them on flights, given that raising the money for last week's group hadn't been easy.
Then Bill Williams got a call Thursday from someone offering $90,000 to fund the next flight. The donor, who asked to remain unnamed, told Williams he had read World-Herald coverage of last week's trip and heard Williams discussing the project on the radio.
“He said, 'I just felt that it was done for the World War II veterans, and these Korea guys deserve to go,' ” Williams said.
That $90,000 would cover a typical flight of about 125 veterans, but with the sudden infusion of cash, organizers are now contemplating a larger-scale airlift. For example, they could charter two 757s on the same day for $200,000. That would allow them to take about 300 veterans at once instead of doing a series of three or four flights that would happen over time, as money became available.
“It's just simpler that way,” Williams said of the all-at-once trip. “Instead of taking 125 at a shot, just load that baby up, and off we go and we're done.”
As always with Honor Flights, there is a pressing reason to move quickly: the advanced age of those veterans who would like to take the trip.
“They're not getting any younger, so the longer you wait, the more guys don't get to go,” Williams said. “That's why you have to hurry.”
Organizers will have to continue raising money beyond Thursday's large donation.
In raising the additional funds, Williams expects to encourage people to “adopt” a veteran by sponsoring that person's seat on the plane, at a cost of about $800.
Those interested in donating can do so at www.patrioticproductions.org.
Williams suggested that fundraising had proven more difficult for the Korean War veterans because that conflict didn't have the same profile as World War II. It has been called “the Forgotten War.”
Williams mentioned one veteran who talked of returning from Korea and being asked by people where he'd been. They hadn't realized he had been fighting in freezing weather far from home.
Given their past experience, the recognition of the Honor Flights is especially meaningful to the Korean War veterans.
Williams noted that a band and about 200 people waving flags and signs greeted last week's flight on its return to Eppley Airfield.
“Some of those guys were just in tears,” he said. “They just couldn't believe the attention.”