||Leslie and Jeanette Mabie of Stoughton, a WWII Veteran and a “Rosie-theRiveter” during the war, respectively, visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the 2011 VetsRoll 2 trip on May 18, 2011. (Photo/Terry Meyers, courtesy VetsRoll.org)
BELOIT -- It may have taken about 59 years before the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. was a reality, but it took only the past three years for almost 500 World War II (WWII) and Korean War Era veterans and “Rosie the Riveters” in the southern Wisconsin area to seize the opportunity to experience it and other national memorials, thanks to VetsRoll.
The VetsRoll Project provides a four-day all expenses paid trip, safe ground transportation, and an enjoyable experience for WWII and Korean era U.S. military veterans and “Rosie the Riveters” to visit their war memorials, along with Arlington National Cemetery, Flight 93 Memorial at Shanksville, Pa., and other related sites in and around Washington, D. C.
Appreciation for veterans
According to Mark Finnegan, Beloit, one of the organizers of the ambitious project, VetsRoll offers a unique opportunity to celebrate freedom and patriotism while saying thank you and extending appreciation to veterans.
Unfortunately, the veterans and civilian volunteers of the WWII and Korean War eras have never received what Mark Finnegan refers to as “the proper respect and gratitude that each and every free person owes to them.” He noted that the veterans and “Rosies” are now in their mid-80s to mid-90s and time is not on their side.
The idea for VetsRoll developed when Mark and John Finnegan, owners of Finnegan RV Center of South Beloit, Ill., realized it would be a suitable way to honor and thank their parents, Cy and Barbara Finnegan, as well as all veterans of their parent’s generation. It was a project very close to their hearts. Mark’s wife, Darlene, helped develop the plans.
The Finnegans’ father, Cy Finnegan, a Beloit businessman, served in the U.S. Navy during WWII and is deceased. He had often remarked that there were no parades nor huge welcomes when the WWII veterans returned home.
During WWII, Barbara Finnegan, worked as an Army civilian in a Signal Corps office, then as a “Rosie the Riveter” at a Beloit engineering firm. She is a member of Our Lady of The Assumption Parish.
Barbara Finnegan said, “I’m proud of my boys. I think there were sentimental tears from most everyone on the trips.”
Stated Mark Finnegan, “This whole WWII generation allowed us to have the RV industry and our business. We felt veterans could gain closure to that time of their lives and that they could know they’re appreciated.
“And we’ve heard absolutely miraculous stories as they shared their experiences. It gets into my heart. I can’t get enough of it,” said Mark Finnegan. He cheerfully added that a few of the vets have requested to be buried wearing their VetsRoll caps
Following the first immensely popular trip in 2010, veterans were asking for additional opportunities. This past May, the 2012 Vets Roll trip included 83 WWII veterans and Rosie the Riveters as well as 117 Korean War veterans plus escorts.
Qualifying Korean War era veterans have been added as the number of WWII veterans dwindles.
Volunteers assist veterans
Emphasis is put on having the veterans travel safely and comfortably. Escorts include nurses and other medical personnel, and wheelchairs are provided. A para-transit van is part of the caravan of buses.
There is an assistant for each two veterans. Every effort is made for the veterans’ comfort. Their medical or other needs are identified and each receives a lanyard with a color matching the motor coach with luggage tags.
Mark Finnegan stressed that the trip is all expenses paid. “I tell our guests they can leave their wallets at home,” he said.
He said the trips would not be possible without the work and efforts of all the volunteers. “I cannot say enough nor praise them enough. They care, they enjoy the trip, and make it happen,” he said.
The Finnegans were aware of the Honor Flight program that takes veterans on a similar trip. However, they looked at the motor homes they sell and felt they could offer a comfortable trip that would allow more time to see the national monuments.
For the first trip in 2010, 180 veterans, seven Rosie the Riveters, and 59 escorts were treated to the trip, traveling in motor homes. Mark Finnegan said a critique of the first trip indicated that 56-passenger charter buses would be more affordable and allow room for more guests.
He estimates the cost of the trips thus far totals hundreds of dollars per person. The volunteers pay their own way, a true sign of their patriotism, according to the Finnegans.
Each year when the caravan of buses arrives home to Beloit, there has been a tremendous community welcome. There are escorts into the city by fire and police departments, scores of well-wishers along the route, and a welcoming program.
Mark Finnegan shared his feeling of being overwhelmed by the community welcomes. “Just this past May, Riverside Drive was lined with flags. The band played, and fireworks welcomed the caravan of our guests,” he said.
Sponsorships, donations from local businesses, and individuals support the entire VetsRoll project. Special fundraisers are essential for the project. One of the largest fundraisers has been the VetsRoll Hangar Dance with music by the Jack Farina Big Band. Finnegan RV Center is a major sponsor.
Mark Finnegan said a large number of area groups and organizations support Vets Roll. He named a few of them: Clinton Fire Department, Town of Turtle Fire Department, American Legion groups, VFW, local unions, churches, and service clubs.
In August, 2011, the Walworth County Fair chose VetsRoll as its preferred charity. VetsRoll was able to raise more than $15,000 at that event, according to Mark Finnegan. “Coupled with our many very successful fundraisers and generous individuals, we completed the 2012 VetsRoll trip,” said Finnegan, adding that the fair (Wisconsin’s largest county fair) also chose VetsRoll.org as its charity with the amount raised going towards the May 19-22, 2013, VetsRoll 4.
Events on November 11
He mentioned two fundraising events to be held on Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11. South Beloit American Legion will serve its Steak Fry for VetsRoll. Culver’s of Beloit and Huntley, Ill., will donate a percent of sales.
For additional information or to donate to the project, visit: VetsRoll.org