Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Roswell Rotary Raised Funds For ‘Honor’

By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published May 22, 2008

Although many cities have their own memorials to their World War II veterans, it wasn’t until 2004 that the national World War II Memorial was completed. By that time, many World War II veterans had died or were in their late 70s and 80s and many couldn’t make the trip to see the memorial in their honor.

Mike Nielsen, a Roswell Rotary Club member and one of the trip’s organizers, learned about the Honor Air flights through his father-in-law who served as a guardian and assistant for an earlier trip with veterans from Henderson County, N. C.

“He couldn’t stop telling me how wonderful the trip was,” Nielsen said.

Even though he has never served in the military himself, Nielsen was so inspired that he lobbied his fellow Rotarians in Roswell to sponsor a similar trip.

“We all jumped in with both feet,” Nielsen said.

Months of planning ensued. The group talked to veterans organizations, made presentations in retirement homes and ran stories in the local media hoping to recruit veterans. Veterans would not be charged for the trip; it was in their honor. Guardians who volunteered to help assist the veterans who needed help would pay their own way.

The Roswell Rotary raised more than $65,000 for the trip, he said.

Nielsen worked through U.S. Airways and chartered a DC-9, filling it with 98 veterans, more than 40 guardians and members of the media who came to document the journey.

After arriving in Washington, the group’s three buses did a sightseeing tour of the Iwo Jima Memorial, and then it was onto the World War II Memorial, where they had a catered box lunch. Jeff Miller, who had organized the Henderson County, N.C., trip, even came to help pave the way for the first-timers, Nielsen said.

While they were at the World War II Memorial, Sen. Bob Dole visited with the veterans, as well as Georgia Rep. Tom Price and Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. After that, it was on to the Korean and Vietnam War memorials and to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, where they witnessed the changing of the guard. A police escort took them back to the airport, where they were whisked back to the plane. They landed before 10 p.m.

The idea of getting all veterans to the memorial through programs like Honor Air has spread like wildfire. Besides Henderson County, N.C., and Roswell, Honor Air programs have been sponsored in Ohio, Louisiana and Florida, to name a few.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure these veterans see the memorial, and we’re running out of time because of the age of these veterans,” said Nielsen. He added that although the Roswell Rotary hopes to sponsor another trip, “we’d like to see other metro groups jump on board.”