Area couple host Freedom Honor Flight fundraiser

Chippewa Falls, WI (WEAU) -- The Fourth of July holiday is long over, but a local couple isn't done celebrating. They're honoring veterans for their sacrifices a week later.

The Billens of Chippewa Falls are remembering those who served our country, in a belated Independence Day party, and along with the party, there's a cause -- a fundraiser that would send area veterans to visit the memorials that stand in their honor

Korean war veteran, Richard Lea, says going on an honor flight to Washington D.C. gives veterans an unforgettable experience. Lea says, "A lot of them said, "All the years that we were in the service, nobody ever thanked us when we came home. This is the first time that anybody ever thanked me for my service."

Lea says all veterans should experience an honor flight and Bob Billen agrees, which is why he decided to host a fundraiser for freedom honor flight.

Billen says, "It's all of them, what they do to serve our country. To give us the opportunity to do something like this, is all the meaning we need to be able to try to do something back for them. Any veteran we see, we thank. This is really what it is, a thank you for them."

Billen says he and his wife hope to raise $7,500 which former Freedom Honor Flight President, Bill Hoel, says is phenomenal.

Hoel says, "Very few individuals go to these kinds of lengths and obviously what it reflects is the depths they feel, the passion for this cause, for saluting the veterans."

Hoel says the honor flight has a strong impact on veterans. He says, "Grateful doesn't even begin to describe how they feel. A typical veteran will get off the airplane after the honor flight and 75% of them will use the same words "this was the greatest day of my life."

Lea says events like this allow veterans to see they're appreciated. He says, "It goes to show that the country is now appreciating veterans, so that's a lot of Korean veterans that say nobody every thanked me until now, so that's really wonderful."

Billen says this is first year he and his wife have hosted a fundraiser alongside their Independence Day party and says he hopes it will continue next year.

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