The Heartland Honor Flights have taken about 1500 Nebraska veterans to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial — at no cost to them. The logistics of getting the seven flights off the ground have been overwhelming. Now that it has all ended, NEWS 5's Dennis Kellogg spends "A Day in the Heartland" with the man who got it all started.
Seven flights, more than 100 volunteers, hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and some 1500 Nebraska veterans getting the chance to see the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. It would not have happened without the efforts of Bill and Evonne Williams.
"I just remember sitting in the chair reading that article in American Profile about Honor Flight and I remember saying to her, 'Gee, this is a neat idea. Somebody should do something,'" said Bill Williams.
Bill and Evonne turned out to be that "somebody." They spent hour after hour at their kitchen table working out the details. Comedian Larry the Cable Guy made a generous donation to fund much of the first flight. Raising funds for subsequent flights, though, was the challenge.
"I think about the way I felt when Roy Dinsdale called me and he listened to my pitch and he said, 'I will give you $10,000.' That is when I really thought maybe this can really be done," said Bill.
The flights gave veterans from nearly 200 Nebraska towns an opportunity they may never have had — to see the memorial built for them. Bill said it is something each one of them has earned.
"These are the guys that saved the world for democracy, came home and helped raise their families, served their communities, believed in self–reliance, personal responsibility, right and wrong, and no whining," Bill said.
For Bill and Evonne, the payoff for all their hard work comes right here, when all the veterans get a chance to see this memorial up close.
"This is our opportunity in their twilight years to do something for them," said Bill. "And so we get so much enjoyment out of it. So much appreciation from them, that it has been worth every minute we have put into it. It is great."
Even Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman has recognized Bill and Evonne's contributions. He made them admirals in Nebraska's Navy last week.
"If you want to talk about a typical Nebraskan who cares and loves this country and loves our state, it is Bill and Evonne Williams," said Governor Heineman.
So as these Heartland Honor Flights come to an end, Bill Williams had some parting words for the volunteers who have helped make it all happen for these veterans.
"I said, we are all going to be able to say, I did the right thing. I am glad I was part of it. We did a good job with that. And that is our enjoyment because for years, even after we run into the children after dad is gone, they are always going to remember and we are always going to remember," said Bill.
It would be hard for anyone, especially these veterans and their families, to ever forget the Heartland Honor Flights.