Stan Cass’ legacy palpable as second-to-last Honor Flight Northern Colorado leaves from Loveland Sunday morning | MyWindsorNow.com

Stan Cass’ legacy palpable as second-to-last Honor Flight Northern Colorado leaves from Loveland Sunday morning

Tommy Simmons
tsimmmons@greeleytribune.com

Gasps rippled through the hotel ballroom Sunday morning when Lee Seward, longtime vice president of Honor Flight Northern Colorado, announced the group would make its final trip to Washington, D.C. in September.

That meant Sunday's honor flight — which departed amid much fanfare about 8 a.m. from the Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center — was the organization's second-to-last. For Brad Hoops, one of the organization's board members, that timing felt about right.

"It was a good time (to stop)," he said. "We thought we would be going out on the top of our game."

Weld native and veteran Stan Cass founded Honor Flight Northern Colorado in 2008. The program's goal was to take World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see war memorials built in their honor. In its 10-year existence, it has provided free trips to almost 3,000 veterans, making it the most successful honor flight in the country. Cass, an active community member in Weld, died April 14 at 84, three weeks before the spring 2018 honor flight.

But the decision to bring an end to the trips had nothing to do with his death — Seward said Cass told the board of directors at their February meeting he felt the group accomplished its goal, which was to take as many northern Colorado World War II veterans to the capital as it could. Over time, the group expanded, accepting veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Just months before his death, Cass felt his dream had been realized.

Still, until Sunday, that decision had not been made public.

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"It's very sad, it's a great organization," Hoops said. "But we had taken pretty much everyone who wanted to go. And now it's mostly younger guys, and there aren't any memorials (for the wars they fought in yet)."

That's not to say the mood of the send-off was at all subdued. Hundreds of people crowded into the hotel's ballroom to eat a free breakfast and listen as Seward led a ceremony that involved the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" and an appearance from a live eagle. The crowd watched a video of a eulogy Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., delivered in Cass' honor in Washington, D.C., and they listened as Seward explained Sen. Corey Gardner, R-Colo., would meet the veterans once they arrived in Washington, D.C.

Then they stepped outside into an immaculate spring morning, waved American flags and cheered on the veterans who boarded the buses bound for Denver International Airport.

The crowd included friends and family of the veterans, but also veterans themselves.

Doug Gifford, who fought in the Korean War, attended an honor flight a few years back, he said. He's not going this year, but he still stood at the door of the ballroom and handed out American flag pins to the veterans, each with a note to thank them for their service and to help make the flight special for participants.

"I have been, and it's a wonderful flight," he said.

After the veterans boarded, the crowd lined the street the buses would take out of the hotel parking lot. The buses did not go alone — an entourage of police vehicles from multiple Colorado agencies accompanied them. On a side street, a horde of motorcyclists sat astride their bikes, idle engines rumbling. Just before they left, Gifford approached one of them. The motorcyclist took the veteran's hand in both his gloves, and the two exchanged a few words.

Then the escort of motorcycles roared from the parking lot, ahead of a bus full of veterans bound to see war memorials constructed in their honor.

The final honor flight

The next trip Honor Flight Northern Colorado makes will take place Sept. 9 and 10. It will be the last flight the organization does. It has also been dubbed the ‘Stan Cass Memorial Flight,’ in honor of Stan Cass, the group’s founder, who died in April. Yet, according to Lee Seward, who had been the organization’s vice president, Cass himself was ready to bring the operation to a close and felt it had accomplished its goal.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Seward told those gathered for the honor flight Sunday morning, “in the words of Stan Cass, ‘mission accomplished.’”