YORK, Pa. — “Let’s go big,” Bailey Coach President John Bailey said to his employees when brainstorming ideas for the company’s annual community service project in 2016.
Their big ideas resulted in an escorted trip last November from York to Washington, D.C., for military veterans and their families to visit war memorials on the National Mall.
More than 400 people, plus a few service dogs, rode in eight motorcoaches donated by York-based Bailey Coach and one each from Executive Coach of Lancaster, Pa., and Wolf Bus Lines of York Springs, Pa.
This year’s trip to Arlington National Cemetery, scheduled for Nov. 8, will be even bigger, with 600 veterans and their families expected to attend.
“We donate a lot of our services throughout the year, and we like to do one large program on an annual basis,” said Bailey, who also serves as chairman of the Pennsylvania Bus Association.
His inspiration for the trip to D.C. came from Honor Flights, in which donated transportation provides veterans the opportunity to visit memorials dedicated to honor the service of themselves and their friends.
Discussions with a friend who runs the VFW began the process of finding local veterans interested in taking the trip.
Phone calls to other community groups led to donated goods and services to make the trip happen.
The York Fairgrounds and Expo Center provided parking and a registration building the day of the event; Starbucks donated coffee; hospitality students from York College assisted with parking and registration; and local VFWs, American Legions and Elks Clubs provided lunch for the attendees.
Local and state politicians addressed the group in the morning, including Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
State and local police escorted the motorcoaches to the Pennsylvania state line, and every intersection was lined with people saluting the vets as they made their way out of town. Veterans on motorcycles escorted the group all the way to D.C.
A special wrap indicating “Gold Star Families On Board” was created for the lead bus, which took 30 Gold Star family members to the national Gold Star headquarters in downtown D.C.
Inclusion in this group is earned when an immediate family member is lost while serving during wartime.
The other buses delivered their passengers to the World War II Memorial on the mall and attendees walked to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping to visit the Vietnam and Korean Memorials along the way. Bailey estimated that 90 percent of the veterans on the trip had never seen the war memorials in D.C.
Army veteran Dale Peters had not been to Washington since he was a child.
“It was like a whole different experience visiting as an adult,” Peters said. “It felt good to be appreciated. My hat’s off to John Bailey and his company for organizing such a heartwarming experience.”
Army Veteran Harold Redding’s daughter heard about the trip and told her father she wanted to go with him to D.C. Redding served in Vietnam, and he and his family attended the dedication ceremonies of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982.
Although Redding had visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial many times since the dedication, his daughter had not been back since that ceremony.
“It was a good day to spend time with my daughter, walk around the memorials and talk about what they mean and to remember the people who gave their lives for our freedoms,” Redding said.
This year’s trip will include a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and participation in a wreath-laying ceremony for each conflict since World War II.
Bailey is still seeking donations to pay for the veterans’ tickets to ride the tram at Arlington, which for 600 people would cost approximately $6,000. Many of the veterans have limited mobility, so walking the hilly grounds of the cemetery would be difficult.
To make donations, contact Brenda Shue of Bailey Coach at 866-599-1675, ext. 114.