VetsRoll trip canceled, 2 Milwaukee veterans recall memories from Washington D.C.
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- For the last decade, leaders of the nonprofit Roll, Inc® have been providing veterans with the experience of a lifetime. Each year, more than 200 veterans are selected for a four-day trip to visit the war memorials in Washington D.C. at zero cost to them.
Now, co-founders of Roll say they've had to cancel the trip again this year because of the pandemic.
"With the explosion of the omicron variant, we made the painful, gut-wrenching decision. Putting safety paramount with our veterans, we had to pull the plug on it," said Mark Finnegan, co-founder of Roll.
The annual cost for the trip is $430,000 and more than 2,000 veterans have taken the trip so far. This includes more than 6,000 hotels, 46,000 meals and more than 260,000 miles traveled.
Miles World War II veterans and best friends Edgar Russell and William Wattleton traveled together. The duo says they're grateful they had the opportunity to take the trip side-by-side.
"It was one of the better trips. We met a lot of friends and we still contact them," said Russell.
"The motorcycle group would escort us from one state to another. We were in the front where we could see everything happening. All the people lined up on the walls and windows. They were honking their horns, it was really exciting," said Wattleton.
The opportunity also allowed them to honor fellow veterans.
"We went for four days, we went to all the memorials. Everyone that was in that war, they had spotted their names and they were putting down flowers. It was sort of sad, you know," said Wattleton.
It wasn't until that moment, they realized the true significance of what they'd done for this country.
"I did it and I came back all together in one piece. I appreciate that, but I didn't really recognize the importance of it until I went on the Washington trip. Seeing all the people welcoming me, thanking me for my service... it brought tears to my eyes," explained Russell.
"What we did... we didn't think much of it at the time. We just served the country, but it was nice of them to honor us," said Wattleton.
Finnegan says VetsRoll plans to take their trip in 2023 from May 21-24. Like many other charities during the pandemic, VetsRoll has experienced a decline in donations over the last two years. If you'd like to donate, click here.
This is the official statement from VetsRoll on the cancelation of the 2022 trip:
"It is with the absolute heaviest of hearts that we announce our VetsRoll board of directors has unanimously voted to cancel our upcoming may 22-25 VetsRoll trip to Dayton, OH and Washington, D.C. Our board of directors and medical team (comprised of more than thirty-five first responder and medical professionals) have worked with and closely monitored, covid-19 and omicron protocol developments from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the world health organization (who). Based on the available information, it is ill-advised to proceed with further plans for this year’s trip. Bottom line, we have weighed the risks and we will not subject our seniors and volunteers to the current level of risk posed by covid-19.We are encouraged by the availability of vaccines; however, we are not out-of-the-woods yet. Many factors were considered in our decision. Our trip involves a group of people at considerable risk for serious illness from covid-19. There are currently too many unknowns. In may, our medical personnel may not be able to get time off from work; quarantines are still very possible; hospital rooms may not be available; venue and hotel COVID policies may be untenable; connecting flights may not be possible and supplies may not be available by trip time. Regrettably, to cancel now and plan for 2023 is the right thing to do! Now begins the daunting task of contacting our partner restaurants, hotels and bus company; the national parks service; police, fire and motorcycle units; suppliers and partners, etc. All perform vital roles in the pairing of hundreds of elderly veterans from across America with the thousands of meals and hundreds of hotel rooms at various venues and the incredible coordination of ten charter coaches escorted by police, fire, dot, motorcycle and helicopters through seven states and Washington, D.C. and so much more. While this news is very disappointing, please understand the board of directors was incredibly disheartened to have to make this decision. VetsRoll built our reputation upon performing with an unequalled level of competence, care and planning. We take immense pride in those measures and in the opportunities we provide for our honored guests with a safe, comfortable and unforgettable experience. Our heroes are the most at-risk from this virus and we take that responsibility very seriously!"