MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- This spring, military veterans from across the country will be heading out on the trip of a lifetime. It’s called VetsRoll, and Mark Finnegan is the man who makes it happen. It takes a lot of planning, and a lot of fundraising.
On one of the snowiest days this winter, hundreds of people still turned out at the Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan. While they enjoyed music, food and drinks organized by the Walworth County Tavern League, many came out to support Finnegan.
“The guy is just so likable and what he does, I don't know where he finds the energy,” said Wisconsin Tavern League president, Chris Marsicano.
Finnegan admits, it does take a lot of energy.
“It never stops,” he laughed. “The fundraising goes all year long.”
Finnegan spent the afternoon at a table filled with information about VetsRoll.
“It costs $400,000 or more to do this for four days every year,” he explained.
So he’s grateful for events like this, that help raise those much needed funds.
“We took it on as a statewide charity and all over the state, local chapters of the tavern league in each county raise money,” Marsicano said. “Whether it's spaghetti dinners, or something like this, or bike rides or whatever it could be.”
VetsRoll takes veterans from World War II through Vietnam on the trip.
“Our tagline is closure, gratitude and respect,” Finnegan said, noting that not all veterans have been able to get closure on their experiences during war.
Over the last 11 years, Finnegan and VetsRoll have taken 2,200 veterans on the trip, which starts in Wisconsin, continues to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and then continues on to Washington, D.C.
“Originally, we thought we were going to do it one time, and after that first trip in 2010, my phone never stopped ringing. My life was changed forever,” Finnegan said.
A video crew documents the trip for the veterans, capturing their reactions as police officers escort them on the road, and people line up to watch them pass. They also capture the moments they see the monuments and memorials to the sacrifices they made in Washington.
“We started this in honor of my father, who was a WWII navy veteran,” Finnegan explained. “And my mother, she's still living, was a Rosie the Riveter in World War II.”
The trip is staffed entirely by volunteers.
“From bus leaders to medical staff, people behind the scenes who are just doing whatever needs to be done,” Finnegan said.
Marsicano has seen the impact VetsRoll has firsthand, when the 11 buses roll back into Beloit.
“Everyone's clapping and saying thank you for your service, welcome home,” he said. “It gives you the chills. It's just the most amazing thing in the world.”
Finnegan said it’s the kind of homecoming these veterans deserve.
“These ladies and gentleman are treated like the kings and queens that they should be,” Finnegan said.
This year’s VetsRoll trip is from May 17th to May 20th. The oldest veteran planning on taking the trip this year is 104 years old. You can find more information about VetsRoll at https://www.vetsroll.org/.