Student has a mission to help WWII vets visit D.C. memorials
WENATCHEE, Wash. — Justin Peterson is a kid with a mission. The 14-year-old Foothills Middle School eighth-grader wants to raise $100,000 by the time he graduates high school to help World War II veterans visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Justin is well on his way. He’s already raised more than $75,000, enough to send 125 aging war veterans on all expense paid flights.
“I’ve always thought about joining the military one day. I’ve always been intrigued by those who fought in the war,” said Justin, the son of Larry and Elizabeth Peterson of Wenatchee.
Since he first did a third grade report on World War II, Justin said he’s been taken by the valor of those who served.
At age 9, he interviewed 10 WWII veterans and through his extra curricular report shared their stories with his community — he lived in Chewelah, north of Spokane, at the time.
While involved with the project, he learned about Inland Northwest Honor Flight, a Spokane-based nonprofit organization that coordinates flights and tours of the many war memorials and museums in the nation’s capital. He decided to raise money for the group as part of his project. His goal was to raise $600 to send one veteran on the trip.
He gave talks at local service clubs, held a pocket-change donation drive and organized a taco feed benefit. He ended up raising far more than he expected, more than $4,300.
Over the past five years, he’s held seven taco or nacho benefit dinners. He’s helped organize annual motorcycle poker runs to raise funds in Chewelah and Oroville, where he has relatives. He’s wrote letters to local businesses and funding organizations seeking donations. One donation from Safeco Insurance amounted to $15,000.
He was fined by a health inspector in 2012 for setting up a hamburger stand to raise funds without a proper health permit. That earned him some Seattle television coverage that helped him raise more money. His dedicated efforts to help veterans have been written up in many newspapers. He’s set up a website and Facebook page to accept donations and sell wrist bands and hat pins for his project.
He traveled to Washington, D.C., twice on Honor Flights as a guardian to help handicapped veterans make the trip. He travels to Spokane to see veterans off on most of the Honor Flight trips.
Established in 2009, Inland Northwest Honor Flight has sent more than 600 veterans on the trip. The most recent trip took 90 veterans — including several from North Central Washington — to Washington, D.C., last week. Wenatchee High School’s FFA program raised $4,000 to help make that trip possible.
“Those were just amazing experiences,” Justin said about his two trips as a guardian. “It was so great to hear their stories and see the emotions on their face when they were at the memorials.” He recalled sitting in with two veterans at breakfast who had never met, but in talking, realized they had served on the same battleship at the same time during the war.
“That was just a phenomenal experience to hear that,” Justin said.
The family moved to Wenatchee last summer when Larry Peterson was hired at Chelan County PUD. Justin said he hasn’t had a lot of time to start many local activities yet, but plans to gear up. He did speak about his mission and the urgency of helping WWII veterans before they are gone at the annual Republican party Lincoln Day Dinner April 5 in Wenatchee. He also visited with the Iron Dragons Motor Club in Pateros. The club is planning a benefit poker ride June 28 to raise money for Honor Flights. He plans to go back to Chewelah June 21 to raise money at an annual poker ride he helped initiate.
Justin said time is running out on WWII veterans, most of who are now in their late 80s or 90s. Several of the veterans he’s met have died in the past couple of years.
“I want to help as many as I can before it’s too late,” he said.