Written by Devon Boen
Former northeastern Montana residents Dave Schledewitz, currently of Townsend,, and Willard "Bud" LaCounte and Cliff Thompsen, both currently of Billings, had the honor of being on the World War II Big Sky Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23-24.
The flight left Billings with 87 WWII vets onboard ranging in ages 83 to 102. As each vet checked in at Logan International Airport in Billings, they were presented with two Big Sky Honor Flight t-shirts, a baseball cap and a jacket. The vets were welcomed at the Dulles International Airport by a large cheering crowd and Sen. Jon Tester.
The group toured Washington, D.C., by bus and visited the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean memorials. They were honored at a banquet that evening and Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Max Baucus were in attendance.
The next day included an emotional trip to the WWII Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, where they viewed the changing of the guard, the Iwo Jima and FDR memorials.
The group returned to Dulles Airport with a police escort. When the group arrived in Billings, they were greeted by a group of about 300 well-wishers.
LaCounte's daughter lives in Washington, D.C., and accompanied her father on the tour. Schledewitz's daughter, Sheryl McElravy of Townsend, accompanied her father on the entire trip.
Big Sky Honor Flight is an organization that takes WWII vets to visit the WWII Memorial and other sights in Washington, D.C. The trips for the vets are free and the funding is from donations.