Fargo VA Health Care System
Their Service Will Never Be Forgotten
Published July/August 2011 by the VAnguard Magazine (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs).
The Fargo VA helps support Honor Flights to pay tribute to America's World War II Veterans.
By Karina R. Davidson
"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." - Winston Churchill
These famous words inspired more than 16 million Americans to serve and defend their country and its allies during World War II. By the time the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., was completed in 2004, more than half of Veterans who fought in a World War had died.
In 2004, a retired Air Force captain and VA physician’s assistant named Earl Morse developed the concept of Honor Flight to provide WWII Veterans the chance to visit their memorial. The first North Dakota Honor Flight was developed by committee members of the WDAY WWII Honor Flight in 2007. This group played host to four flights inviting Veterans from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota to visit the WWII memorial free of charge.
More than 800 Veterans flew out of Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., during the original flights. In response to a need for additional flights, the first Roughrider Honor Flight was organized in September 2008. Roughrider Honor Flight is a volunteer organization that is funded entirely through the generosity of its supporters and is the sole active North Dakota member of the Honor Flight Network.
On May 6, the Roughrider Honor Flight flew out of the Bismarck, N.D. Airport with what would be the last group of WWII Veterans. It was the fifth Honor Flight for the Roughriders.
“When I agreed to chair this effort,” said Kevin Cramer, co-chair of the Roughrider Honor Flight committee, “I knew there would be a first flight and I was pretty sure there would be a second. I was amazed when we began organizing the fifth flight. We made the commitment to do this as long as there was a local WWII Veteran able and ready to go.”
Through its commitment and fundraising efforts, the Roughrider Honor Flight made it possible for more than 500 additional local Veterans to visit the memorial. The Fargo VA Health Care System has supported these flights in various ways, including providing medical support on numerous Honor Flights since their inception in 2007.
Most recently, Dr. Brian Hancock, chief of staff for the Fargo VA Health Care System, was able to participate in the final Roughrider Honor Flight as head physician on the medical team. “This is another way for us at the Fargo VA to demonstrate our commitment to all of the Veterans, but in this particular case, those from the WWII generation,” said Hancock.
Making this trip even more meaningful for Hancock was the opportunity to share the experience with his father, James Hancock, a WWII Veteran. “I was able to bring my dad, who was a Pearl Harbor survivor and had not had the opportunity to go to Washington to see the memorial that was created for these heroes.”
The Fargo VA has also been deeply involved in fundraising efforts to support these flights. Through the work of the Fargo VA Employee Association and the generosity of VA staff and volunteers, the Fargo VA was able to donate well over $5,400 to the final Roughrider Honor Flight.
“It says a lot about the employees here,” said Cindy Bartholomay, one of the organizers of the fundraising event. “When you think of how much money was raised, it’s unbelievable. This is a difficult time, money is tight, and still, they came through.”
This was the third fundraiser the Fargo VAEA has held for the Honor Flights. In total, Fargo VA employees have donated well over $17,000 to support these flights. Bartholomay was also able to serve as an escort on one of the original Honor Flights and describes the trip as one of the most memorable times of her life.
When the Veterans and volunteers returned to Bismarck on May 7, they were greeted by students, family and community members welcoming them home. Most surprising to them, however, was the support they received from complete strangers while in Washington, D.C.
Hancock said that while the group was visiting Arlington National Cemetery, more than 150 middle school students began applauding for the WWII Veterans, and that was only one example of impromptu support the Honor Flight participants received. “None of these children were born when this war was occurring,” said Hancock, “yet these were spontaneous eruptions of support, pride, honor and respect for men and women who participated in a war that these students have only read about in history books.”
Tom Selleys, a longtime volunteer at the Fargo VA and a WWII Veteran who joined the Army at the age of 16, was also a participant on the last Roughrider Honor Flight. When asked what he enjoyed most about the trip, Selleys found it difficult to choose, but described the memorial as “beautiful beyond words. They pulled out all the stops and made it a monument of beauty, bravery and valor.”
Selleys is certain his sentiments are echoed in the hearts of every Veteran who visited the monument that day. He expressed gratitude for not only the opportunity to participate in the final Roughrider Honor Flight, but for the treatment he and every Veteran received during the entire trip.
“I think the Roughrider Flight was set up for royalty because the treatment we received was beyond description,” Selleys said. “Each Veteran seemed like he was being treated individually, from the takeoff in Bismarck to landing back in Bismarck, it felt like each Veteran was led around personally and given every kind treatment imaginable.”
The continued support of the Honor Flights by the Fargo VA Health Care System was important to Michael Murphy, Fargo VA Medical Center director. “Health care professionals from the Fargo VA have provided medical support to the Honor Flights since they started,” he said.
“The staff members who volunteer get a very special reward from the opportunity to directly serve these Greatest Generation Veterans who sacrificed so much for our country.”
Many of those involved with the Honor Flights, from organizers to those who were driven to donate to much a worthy cause, have felt the same sense of pride, duty and honor toward the Veterans these flights have served.
“I am so overwhelmed by the [Fargo VA] employees’ generosity,” said Bartholomay. “It just shows why this is such a wonderful place to work. We all feel the same passion and love of serving our Veterans.”