This October, Story County plans to send World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans on a “Freedom Flight” to the District of Columbia to see memorials at no cost to the veterans. To send the veterans to the district for free, Story County needs to fundraise $95,000; and that’s just for one flight.
Renee Twedt, Story County treasurer, came up with the idea for the Freedom Flight. Last year Story County Veterans Affairs had a very small part of the county budget and didn’t have a lot of money. Brett McLain of Veterans Affairs and co-chairman for the Freedom Flight wanted to have a golf tournament to raise money. Twedt helped raise $8,000 and was honored with a helicopter ride. It was up in the Blackhawk helicopter Twedt said she got the idea for the Freedom Flight.
“As we were flying around I said, you know, we should probably do a Freedom Flight,” Twedt said. “Brett said that would be a lot of money and a lot of work … but decided it would be worth it.”
Twedt said the funds for the Freedom Flight are coming from businesses, individuals and fundraisers.
The very first fundraiser was a meat and cheese auction in Cambridge, Iowa. The mayor gave all the proceeds, $750, to Story County for the Freedom Flight. There is also a group that goes door-to-door looking for donations. The Sons of the American Legion hosted a kickoff fundraiser. These are just some of the examples of local fundraisers for the Freedom Flight.
Karla Kelly, Freedom Flight committee member from Ames Elks Lodge, said the Elks raised over $6,000 for the freedom flight by hosting a dinner and auction at the Elk Lodge. They sold 80 dinner tickets for $40 each to people around town who came to support the Freedom Flight.
“One of our mottos is: 'So long as there’s a veteran, the Elks will never forget them,'” Kelly said. “By supporting the veterans, [the Elks] are supporting their motto. … We really feel proud that so many people have come forward to help us out. We just feel that it’s really time to repay these men and women for our freedom.”
About 160 applications have been received so far, Kelly said, but they can only take about 140 people on the plane.
Twedt said they are giving first priority to World War II veterans because they are the oldest generation and want to make sure they can go.
“It seems like after they turn in their application, they are on cloud nine,” Twedt said.
Maury Geist, an 86-year-old World War II veteran and retired associate director of admissions at Iowa State, said he is excited to go to the District of Columbia because he has never been there.
“I would be very privileged and very fortunate just to be selected and to go,” Geist said. “I certainly look forward to it.”
Geist served 28 months in the Air Force and stayed on reserve for an additional three years.
When he enlisted, he said it was the “thing to do” in high school.
“It was just a part of [a young man’s] life,” Geist said, “to feel that was an obligation they wanted to fulfill for their country.”
Geist also said a person was either going to be drafted into the regular army or enlist to choose a particular branch. Most enlisted prior to their 18th birthday and would have to pass various physical and intelligence examinations.
Twedt said that veterans call all the time to express their excitement or tell their story. She said there was a veteran that called her from a nursing home she couldn’t understand well because his enamel had worn down so badly from being fed bread made of sawdust for years while at war.
“Things like that make you proud you’re doing what you’re doing,” Twedt said, referring to her work organizing the Freedom Flight. “Without them we wouldn’t have the freedom to do what we’re doing today.”
Twedt said there is a lot more fundraising that needs to be done. They are close to $40,000 but need an additional $55,000.
With the help of Story County citizens, businesses and fundraisers, Twedt said she hopes to raise enough money.
“I’m hoping the citizens of Story County will come through,” Twedt said. Chuckling, she added, “Maybe a private donor will step forward and write a check.”