Joe Dean stepping back at Honor Flight

CREATED May 24, 2013

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  • Joe Dean (right), with 620WTMJ's Charlie Sykes. | Photo: Joe Dean Image by Joe Dean

  • Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jodi Becker poses with her son and Grandfather, a WWII vet. Even the baby has an Honor Flight shirt!

  • Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jodi Becker interviews the director and the producer.

  • Aaron Rodgers taped a message for the crowd.

MILWAUKEE - Joe Dean is stepping back at the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.  Joe has been the driving force behind the organization that has flown numerous planes full of World War II veterans to see the World War II Memorial in Washington DC.  But the Honor Flight has done so much more than just that for our community.  It only seems right to pause and thank Joe.

"Every time I see that incredible look on a veterans face and the pride in their family, it reminds me that none of this would have occurred without Joe Dean," said We Energies CEO Gale Klappa.  We Energies charitable arm and Klappa have been big supporters of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.

Honor Flight is all about honoring men and women who did something amazing.  They never asked for, or got the proper recognition at the time.  Honor Flight has given them that recognition.  But it's also done something amazing for this whole community.

"You can just never put a number on how many people's lives have been affected," said Steve Deutsch, one of the first people to work with Joe Dean at the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.

One life Honor Flight affected, Joe Demler.  He's the Human Skeleton.  Joe was in a Nazi prison.  He was starved and only weighed 70 pounds when he was liberated.  He made the cover of Life Magazine.  He was literally skin and bones.  It was during that time he said, "Every day is a bonus."  It became the slogan for Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.

"They should have a day just for honoring what he's done," Demler said about his friend, Joe.

"[Joe] is constantly spinning out ideas that are impossible, impractical and that, somehow, he makes happen," said Charlie Sykes.  Charlie has been intimately involved with the Honor Flight, using his show to help raise money to fly the first 747 to Washington.

That was Joe's idea, to fly the biggest plane you could get.  It was crazy.  No one thought they could raise enough money, $250,000.

"He doesn't really take no for an answer," said Deutsch.

Honor flight flew three 747s.  And it's flown a number of 757s since then.

"Then I remember he says, okay, the next big idea is what if we could fill Miller Park for the premier of the Honor Flight movie, which was, of course, crazy," Charlie remembered.

Klappa sat next to Governor Walker during the Miller Park movie premier, "as we were beginning the program Governor Walker leaned over to me and said, 'this is so cool,' and he pulled out his Blackberry and started taking pictures."

There were more than 28,000 people in Miller Park that night.

"What all of us look for at the end of the day is to see a smile of the veteran's for or their family's face and the reward is internal.  It speaks for itself," Deutsch said.

In many ways, that's what the Honor Flight is really about. It brings families together, sometimes four generations at a time.  And it brought this community together.

"If there's anybody that really needs a thank you it is Joe Dean because this has been a major undertaking and it wouldn't have happened without him," Sykes said.