Seventy years after the D-Day invasion during World War II, a Canton native set out on a mission to give back to the veterans who served in the war more than a half-century ago.
When Cliff Lummus, 31, realized hundreds of WWII veterans were dying every day — and many had never seen the national monument built in their honor — so he wanted to do something to show appreciation for the their sacrifices.
“I’ve seen — in my lifetime — the last World War I veteran passing away. And I realized in my lifetime, we’re going to see that same thing happen with the WWII veterans,” Lummus said. “I want to do something to directly honor them.”
Lummus started an online fundraiser called “Project D70” with a goal to raise more than $14,000 by July 4, to send a group of WWII veterans to Washington this September to see the monument built in their honor. “I think people want to do something. They want to show their respect, appreciation and support, but they don’t know how to focus it at WWII veterans. So, I wanted give a real way to do that,” Lummus said.
The money donated to Project D70 goes directly to Honor Flight Savannah, one of two Georgia hubs for the national Honor Flight Network, Lummus said.
Retired Navy Lt. Larry Spears is the founder and treasurer of the nonprofit Savannah hub for the Honors Flight Network and said many veterans have never seen the monuments built to honor their service to their country. “It took them about 60 years to build the memorial to the WWII veterans,” Spears said. “About 400 [WWII veterans] per day are passing away. When I started the program in Savannah in 2009, we were losing at the rate of 1,200 per day. It’s a diminishing population. We’re running out of time.”
Since founding Honor Flight Savannah, Spears has transported more than 500 veterans to Washington — at no cost to them — to see the monuments built to commemorate past wars, he said.
“Of all of the people that served in the armed forces since the founding of our nation, this is the only group that the entire age group mustered, without any coercion, to protect our freedoms,” Spears said of WWII veterans. “It was a very unselfish motivation on their part. They had just suffered living through the dust bowl in the Midwest — in a lot of cases — and the Great Depression nationwide. And right after the Depression ended, here they are going off for anywhere from three to four years in a foreign country to protect our freedom.”
Lummus said with so many charities and organizations helping veterans, he wanted to contribute to a more focused, specific goal.
“With bigger organizations … nobody wants to be the one that gave the $5 that bought a box of ballpoint pens, needed though they may be,” Lummus said. “They actually want to see the progress. They want to know, ‘If I donate $5, $5 went straight to the cause that I was trying to get it to.’” With a cost of about $300 to $400 per person, Lummus said about 30 veterans can travel to Washington at no cost to them. Volunteers pay their own cost for travel.
Unlike most organizations in the Honors Flight Network, the Savannah hub uses buses to transport veterans, Spears said. “The cost out of Savannah has gotten prohibitively expensive. We don’t have Southwest, like in Atlanta,” Spears explained. “A roundtrip cost on Saturday — for a nonstop flight — costs $700. It’s hard to ask a volunteer to show their love for the program (and pay $700 to volunteer). With the bus, I’m able to keep the cost just under $400.”
“They always need funds and contributions, no matter what. Whether we hit the goal or not, the money will still go to them,” Lummus said. “The $300 we’ve got right now, that’s about enough to send one extra veteran.”
Donations can be made online at ProjectD70.com.