The Omaha couple who launched 11 honor flights for Nebraska veterans will make it an even dozen — announcing plans Monday to take women who served in war zones on a free, daylong trip to Washington next fall.
“I thought we were done,” Bill Williams said. “I know I’ve been saying that. But I’ve been thinking about this one for a while.”
After guiding 3,400 Nebraskans around the nation’s war monuments and memorials, Williams won’t make this trip. The all-female passengers will be accompanied by an all-female group of guardians, and flown by an all-female flight crew, he said.
He and his wife, Evonne, who run Patriotic Productions, have set a tentative date of Sept. 24. The flight would depart from and return to Omaha, and be open to any female Nebraska veteran who served overseas in World War II, or was deployed during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan.
“The tricky part is they have to have served in-country,” he said, “and not stateside.”
Another tricky part will be finding veterans from the early wars. He spoke to a World War II veteran who took the second honor flight, in 2008, but she’s 94 now and doesn’t think she can travel again.
And when he and Evonne took more than 650 Vietnam vets to Washington last year, just one was a woman, he said.
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Jack Egermier of Omaha (left), Michael Korth of Humphrey, Michigan Rep. Jack Bergman, John Trayer Jr. of Roca, John Phillips of Arnold and Alvin Korth of Lindsay saluted as they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in May.
Mel Varner of Seward (in black cap) joins one group of Nebraska Vietnam veterans as they pose for a photo at the Lincoln Memorial with flags flying on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Retired U.S. Marine Sgt. and Vietnam veteran Thomas Dawson of Lincoln pauses to view tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Bill Rigg of Omaha, who served on the USS Hornet in Vietnam, watches the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, May 1, 2017, in Arlington, Virginia. Three Honor Flights delivered more than 650 Nebraska Vietnam Veterans to visit memorials and monuments in the nation's capital for a day. MIKE THEILER For the Journal Star
Retired U.S. Army Spc. Thomas Heaney of Lincoln touches the name of a fallen comrade, James A. Gaiser, who was killed in a mortar attack in Vietnam, during a moment at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Monday in Washington, D.C.
A Nebraska Vietnam veteran wears twin American flags on his commemorative polo shirt at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Ray Krings of Lindsay moves past the Lincoln Memorial on his way to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Mel Wilkison of Greenwood, who served with the First Cavalry in Vietnam, watches the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday in Arlington, Virginia.
One group of Nebraska Vietnam veterans salute as they pose for a photo at the Lincoln Memorial on Monday in Washington, D.C.
A Nebraska Vietnam veteran wears a bracelet at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday in Arlington, Virginia.
A group of Nebraska Vietnam War veterans watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia on Monday.
Carl Schaldecker of Grafton placed American flags at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during an honor flight in May.
Lincolnites (from left) Steven Neptune (Army sergeant), Thomas Dawson (Marine sergeant) and Thomas Heaney (Army specialist) share a moment at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Monday in Washington, D.C. Three Honor Flights delivered more than 650 Nebraska Vietnam veterans to visit memorials and monuments in the nation's capital for a day.
One group of Nebraska Vietnam veterans pose for a photo at the Lincoln Memorial with flags flying on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Vietnam War veterans are greeted by thousands of supporters as they return to the Lincoln Airport from Honor Flights to Washington, D.C.
Thousands of supporters turned out at the Lincoln Airport to greet Vietnam War veterans returning from Washington, D.C., in May 2017.
Vietnam War veterans Mike McConnell (left) of Lincoln thanks his comrade Paul Gerken, also of Lincoln, for his service as Monday's Honor Flights return to a homecoming celebration at the Lincoln Airport. McConnell took part in an Honor Flight last year.
Vietnam War veterans' wives Joyce Rathe (left) of Tecumseh and Vicki West of Lincoln head up the escalator waving to supporters as they arrive at the terminal to welcome home their husbands aboard the Honor Flights during a celebration on Monday at the Lincoln Airport.
A parade of motorcyclists arrives at the terminal to welcome home Vietnam War veterans aboard the Honor Flights Monday at the Lincoln Airport.
But he expects little trouble finding women who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan: 200 were deployed by the Nebraska National Guard, he said.
“Those women were in severe danger, driving around the roads with IEDs,” he said.
The plane he chartered can hold 135 veterans, but he would consider raising more money and reserving a second plane if he’s overwhelmed by demand. And that’s another tricky point.
The September trip — including the chartered jet, bus transportation, meals and other expenses — will cost about $175,000, he said.
But when he was organizing last year’s four-plane flight for Vietnam vets, he told his big donors that was his last trip — and assured them that was his last time asking them for money.
“All of those people will not be asked for this one,” he said. “To make it happen, it has to be new donors.”
The upcoming trip would follow the routines of past flights, starting with a sendoff dinner the night before at an Omaha-area hotel, an early morning bus ride to the airport and the nonstop flight to Washington, where the vets will visit memorials dedicated to those who served in Korea, Vietnam, World War II and Iwo Jima, the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. While at Arlington National Cemetery, the vets will also visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. They’ll return that night to a welcome home ceremony at the airport.
During other honor flights, Patriotic Productions also planned what it called Operation Home Front, a day of activities for the spouses — mostly wives — of veterans on the trip.
In September, the men who stay home in Nebraska that day can likely expect similar treatment, Williams said.
“There’s a discussion about having Home Front for the husbands. What that would consist of, we have no idea.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.