Taylor Andrews for Mountain Media House
Taylor Andrews for Mountain Media House
Eight cyclists trekked from Iron Mountain to the Mackinac Bridge this summer to raise money for U.P. Honor Flight, a non-profit organization created to honor Upper Peninsula veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made for their country.
The 200-mile trip also raised awareness about the organization, which, like others across the country, provides veterans with transportation to and from Washington, D.C., giving them the opportunity to visit and reflect on the monuments standing in their honor in the nation’s capital.
Averaging more than 80 veterans and sponsors per flight, the U.P. organization has been nothing shy of a success. U.P. Honor Flight is among more than 135 member groups across the country -- that have brought more than 250,000 veterans to D.C.
“It’s just this grassroots thing that’s typical of the U.P. Our U.P. Honor Flight organization is probably one of the healthiest in the country, and it is because of the patriotism of the people that live here,” said Scott Lewellyn, U.P. Honor Flight board member.
Lewellyn is not only a board member of the non-profit but also one of the cyclists who joined the 200-mile ride to the Mackinac Bridge. "The idea for the cycling trip was just one of those three-in-the-morning ideas," he said.
Initially, the trip was just an idea to bring awareness to the organization; however, at the time, the cycling team was unaware of the impact fundraising would inevitably make, marking the trek as one of the most successful fundraisers to date.
"There were so many memorable moments," Lewellyn said. "It was this team of people where I didn't know everybody, kind of like the military; when you bring a bunch of people that don't know each other together, and you have a common purpose. It's amazing how a group of people can take one little seed, water it, and it turns into what it was."
Notably, he couldn’t express his gratitude enough for the presence of law enforcement coming together to escort them to the bridge.
“The true blessing in the whole thing was having the Michigan State Police follow us the whole way,” he said.
Since his involvement began in 2017, Lewellyn has become one of the fundamental orchestrators behind the U.P. Honor Flight in Iron Mountain, dedicating and volunteering his time to honor local veterans.
“We get a lot of guys saying, ‘Well, I’m really not deserving.’ If you raised your right hand, you had a role in protecting our country, and it doesn’t matter what that role was … you are as deserving as anyone else; you don’t need to have a Purple Heart to go. And it’s not just about you being honored because I know you would want to go and honor the guys you served with.”
One of those veterans is Peter Anderla, who served in Vietnam. He spoke about how his recent Honor Flight was "an experience of a lifetime."
Anderla regularly speaks to local service organizations and at local churches to share his experience with others and to express his appreciation for the organization.
Listening to Anderla talk about his trip to Washington it's easy to understand why volunteers like Lewellyn are so dedicated to this organization.
"It was a proper welcome home after 50 years," Anderla said, recalling that Vietnam veterans did not receive a hero's welcome home.
Anderla noted the importance of the trip and wants to encourage other veterans who are hesitant to go ahead and sign up.
"It's different when you're with a group of other veterans who have all gone through similar things," he said. "Walking through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I saw the names of people I knew on those walls."
When asked about the most memorable parts of his trip, Anderla recounted being awestruck at the enormity of Arlington National Cemetery and captivated by the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Most memorable, however, was making the trip with his step-daughter, Cindy Mick. He has a scrapbook she made commemorating their journey together; it includes a letter from her etched on the inside cover:
Pete, I first want to start off by saying thank you for allowing me to go on this trip. This trip was meant for you but I want you to know the impact of this day, I will remember forever. I loved listening to you tell stories and then reading the letters from your sisters basically telling the other side of the story.
I’m sure you don’t hear it enough but thank you for your service and for being brave enough to join the military during that time. Your choice to go was selfless and courageous. It may sound weird coming from me but I am so proud of you for defending our country. I am not sure I would ever be brave enough to do what you have done. We need more people like you in the world. I feel bad that our country took so long to make you guys feel proud and welcomed back. I hope this trip helped you realize how important and amazing all of you are!! I love you and thank you again for everything.
Serving veterans from World War II through Vietnam, the U.P. Honor Flight gives these veterans the opportunity to connect and bond with those who may have served at the same base together.
"The whole reason Honor Flight exists is because when people raise their hand to join the military … as Americans, we have a sense of duty to honor them," Lewellyn said.
If you are a veteran interested in an Honor Flight Tour, or a civilian interested in supporting the cause, visit http://upperpeninsulahonorflight.org/.
At the time of publication, the U.P. Honor Flight teamed up with Stormy Kromer to release special edition hats, with $26.50 from each cap purchase going directly to Upper Peninsula Honor Flight in support of this noble mission. Visit https://www.stormykromer.com/ to purchase a hat and support our veterans.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.