Farmington Hills vet recognizes fellow veterans with Honor Flight

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published September 19, 2017

 WWII Navy veteran Art Nall takes an Honor Flight to D.C.

WWII Navy veteran Art Nall takes an Honor Flight to D.C.

Photo by Bill Bollin

FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Hills resident William Bollin, 70, can’t help but give honor where it’s due.

The Air Force Vietnam veteran, who served from 1964 to 1970, honors local veterans by arranging Honor Flight excursions through the Findlay, Ohio, Flag City Honor Flight Program. The latest flight was planned for Sept. 20. Veterans from the Brookdale Farmington Hills senior living facility and other metro Detroit veterans planned to take the trip.

Bollin said that other veterans living at Brookdale will be going on an Honor Flight in June.

Honor Flight takes veterans who have served in the military — overseas and stateside — to the Washington, D.C., memorials that honor military service and dedication. 

Honor Flight is a national organization with numerous chapters throughout the United States. Bollin said two chapters exist in Michigan: one in Grand Rapids and one in the Upper Peninsula’s Gladstone.

Bollin, a Flag City Honor Flight volunteer, arranged for 19 veterans to take Honor Flights in June and September. Bollin began working with Flag City Honor Flight last October after discovering the volunteer organization. 

During a Sept. 12 interview at Brookdale with six other veterans, Bollin said that whether a veteran was in combat or not is irrelevant. 

“One of the biggest problems I have encountered since working with the Honor Flight (is that) there are a lot of veterans who are initially reluctant to go on Honor Flight” because they may not have been in active duty, Bollin said. The title “veteran” makes them eligible to fly, he said. “Everything you did helped somebody else do their job — that is the important thing.” 

Cliff Heller, 89, an Army veteran who served 1946-1947 — in between World War II and the Korean conflict — agreed.

Heller, wearing an Honor Flight baseball cap, said he owes the experience of the flight he took to Bollin. 

“Because I didn’t think I was worthy of it, because when I went into the service, I went in in that interim period (of the) end of fighting and the official end of the war … but nothing (was) going on at that time,” Heller said, adding that his Honor Flight experience was memorable. 

“You never forget it — it was phenomenal. I can’t say enough about it,” he said.

Heller’s daughter, Royal Oak resident Landi Heller, said that the flight was “very emotional.”

“I had no idea what to expect. … I had no idea that everything was in store,” she said, adding that the degree of respect and honor the veterans received made her feel special. 

“It’s just really nice. It’s wonderful. … I can’t say enough about Honor Flight,” she said.

Air Force veteran John Gere, 85, who served in the Korean War 1951-1955, took the September Honor Flight and said he was grateful for the experience. 

“I’m honored to be honored,” Gere said, adding that he looked forward to touching the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because its power is palpable. 

He also said that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is sad and “pitiful” because it has all of the names of the people who died — over 58,000 deaths in Vietnam. 

“The names of those who died — so sad. Just terrible, all those lives that have been lost,” he said.

Bollin added that the Honor Flight validates veterans’ wartime experience.

“Basically, (it is) about giving them the welcome home,” Bollin said, adding that a lot of veterans never got the ticker tape parades or crowds cheering for them. 

“The Korean War never officially ended — there was no welcome. … There were a lot of nasty things that happened to veterans when they came home. It is all about giving these guys what they missed back then; that is why it is so important to do that.” 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die daily. According to the National WWII Museum, 558,000 WWII veterans are still alive out of the 16 million who served. It costs more than $1,000 for each veteran to fly to Washington, D.C., with Flag City Honor Flight, and the flight is free for the veterans through donations. 

Bollin is not just making sure that veterans are taken care of in the sky, but on the ground too. 

At Brookdale, Bollin started a Veterans Corner last October to help keep the veterans — there are no female veterans in the facility — active. Bollin said that the female-majority residents tend to have more activities to do. 

“They’re not into baking cookies and crocheting,” Bollin said of the veterans.

Veterans Corner members meet monthly at Brookdale for activities and discussion. The invitation-only group meets the second Wednesday of every month.

Bollin said that if members want to share their war experiences, they can, but they’re not forced to. 

“Veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences, but little by little they opened up to themselves,” he said.

Erin Bydlowski, Brookdale’s executive director, said that the group allows veterans to be open.

“(We are) lucky to have Bill lead those,” she said, adding that the group fosters feelings of “camaraderie.” 

Bydlowski added that Brookdale encourages residents to get out and live independent lives, and the Veterans Corner group helps veterans do that.

The Sept. 20 trip included a Farmington Hills Police Department and Michigan State Police escort up to the Ohio border; Ohio police then escorted them the rest of the way.

“These guys deserve it,” Bollin said of the convoy.

Farmington Hills Police Cmdr. Daniel Rodriguez said in an email that the Police Department heard about this opportunity from Bollin, a former police auxiliary officer at the FHPD. 

“We were honored to meet several real American heroes,” Rodriguez said in the email.

Bollin said getting veterans on the Honor Flight is a gratifying experience.

He added that his deceased father, William H. Bollin, a WWII Navy veteran, was not able to go on an Honor Flight because before Bollin could take his dad, the local chapter closed up, and the timing was not right. 

“This is why it is so personal to me, and I enjoy doing what I do,” Bollin said.

For more information, go to www.flagcityhonorflight.org.