We've had a lot of folks ask over the years what we have found to be the best ways to connect with local WWII veterans. When we first started Operation Meatball in 2014, this was one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome. The few WWII vets we knew were several States away, so for all practical purposes we had to start from scratch. In fact, for the first WWII Dinner we put on, we really had to comb the newspapers and local care homes for vets. The good news is, once we started to figure it out, it turned into a fire hydrant.
Below I have outlined a few tips which we have found helpful, and I hope you will too.
There are several way to volunteer.
- Sign up to be a Guardian on an Honor Flight. This is trickier because most of the hubs only have 1 or 2 scheduled flights per year and already have a long guardian waiting list (unless of course you are related to the veteran, or he has requested you). Also, though the trip is 100% free for the veteran, guardians are requested to make a $500 donation to cover their flight, hotel room, and food during the trip (note: the cost varies according to the location. West coast guardian fees are around $900-1000). That said, If you were able to be a guardian for a WW2 or Korean War vet on an HF, it would be one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life. Truly. As much as the trip impacts the veteran, I can tell you first hand that it will change your life as well. CLICK HERE TO FIND YOU LOCAL HUB
- Volunteering Locally with Honor Flight. You may not be able to go on an HF, but there are PLENTY of activities and events locally which your HF hub will host during the year. Fundraising events, HF Welcome Homes (a great opportunity to make a super flashy red, white, and blue, patriotic welcome home sign), letter collections, and anything else they do. This is a great opportunity to meet your local WW2, Korea, and Vietnam veterans, as well as work with some terrific people with a similar passion.
- Mail Call. Each HF that goes to DC has a surprise for the vets (If you are a WW2 or Korean War vet who hasn't gone on HF, - don't read the next sentence. Hehe). In the weeks before the flight, they collect special letters of gratitude from the veteran's family members, friends, and anyone who wishes to send in. Then on the return trip home, they have "Mail Call" just like in their service days. This is one of the most emotional and meaningful parts of the trip for the vets. If you can't make it to any of the HF programs, I highly recommend that you send in letters to your local hub for Mail Call. They are ALWAYS in need of more letters. They can be simple cards which just say Thank you Veteran, or you can be creative and decorate it fancy. Just make sure to check the specific requirements for your hub.
Visit Your Local Nursing Homes & Assisted Living
Many of your local Care Homes will have a sprinkling of these American National Treasures. If you can sing, play an instrument, or have something similar to offer, contact the activity director for your local care home. The residents and veterans are always happy to have folks come in and entertain them. I know most of y'all already do this over the holidays... but there are still plenty of other opportunities to stop by and visit throughout the year. Think about bringing cards over on Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or Veterans Day. Or just because.
Though there will be less and less WW2 vets as the years roll on, there are plenty of Korean War and even a few Vietnam vets living in these homes. And they would all be happy for a visit!!
Local Events/ Everyday Life
National holiday events like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Veterans Day, etc always bring the veterans out. There are numerous other smaller holidays as well, but those of course are the largest. Keep an eye out for what events are happening in your area. Is your local VFW or American Legion having an open house? Maybe your local history museum/holocaust museum/ or something similar is having a guest speaker. These are all easy things that give you the opportunity to meet your local veterans.
Of course, the grocery store is another awesome place, so keep an eye out for the WWII Vet/Korean War vet caps (for my WW2 readers... PLEASE remember to wear your hats out in public! Thank you). I'll tell you this, once you start noticing caps, you'll start seeing them everywhere. Funny story... about every 2 years I run into the same veteran at Costco. Each time we're both dashing somewhere crazy, but I end up reintroducing myself only to realize we've met before.
World War Two Events
Going to WWII events is a great way to get your feet wet and get inspired. There are SO many WWII events all over the country throughout the year, that I can only name a few here. But hopefully it'll give you a good idea what to look for.
- D-Day Conneaut is the largest reenactment of the Normandy Invasion. But it's more than a reenactment. Set on the shores of Lake Erie, OH, you get to spend 3 days visiting authentic American, Allied, German, and Free French camps, with educational displays and living quarters for the over 1,200 reenactors who attend. It is like stepping back in time. Additionally (and our favorite part of course) is the veterans tent. WWII Veterans have talks throughout the weekend and you get the opportunity to visit with them in a casual and comfortable setting. Generally the 3rd weekend in August. Click Here to Learn More
- Reading World War Two Weekend is one of the largest WW2 events/airshows in the country. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, they have reenactors from all parts of the war (The European Theatre, the Pacific Theatre), veteran talks, singing, a hangar dance, and a great selection of WWII planes. The dates are generally the first weekend in June. Click Here to learn more
- Currahee Military Weekend, one of my favorite events of the year. This tight-knit community gathers each October to honor the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa during WW2. Making it extra special are the "Original Toccoa Men" who make the trip out each year. Secretly, I think it's just to make sure peeps like us keep running the Currahee mountain (3 Miles Up. 3 Miles Down). Click Here to Learn More
- Remembering WWII is another great event for the family. Around the end of September, the entire town of Linden, Tennessee transforms into the 1940s. Over the weekend they have a movie night, a reenactment, veteran talks, and much more. Click Here to Learn More
- Airshows: There are dozens of airshows throughout the year. Depending which ones you are closest to, they might have a special Heroes and Legends Tent or Veterans Tent, or something similar which is specifically set up for the public to meet and talk with veterans.
There are of course many, many WWII events and airshows throughout the year, but these are the top ones that come to mind. If you are looking for one more local, of course you can look on Facebook and Google.
I may do a part two down the road, but I hope some of the information helps. If you have questions, feel free to ask, and I'll try to get back to you promptly.
If you are new to the WWII community, don't be overwhelmed. Yes, there is a lot to learn, baby steps will get you there just as fast. Also, the good news is, once you start spotting veteran caps and keeping an eye out for local events, the opportunities will really open up. But don't wait. Don't wait until you have a paper to write for school, or even Veterans Day... Start now. Start looking for ways to recognize and thank your local veterans before the time runs out and the opportunity is no longer there.