At the young age of 9, Justin Peterson had a goal of raising $600 to send a veteran to Washington, D.C., on the Inland Northwest Honor Flight. The Sons of The American Legion member from Wenatchee, Wash., exceeded his goal by $3,700 and hasn’t stopped.
Peterson, now a 17-year-old who will be attending American Legion Boys State this summer, has raised more than $126,000 and sent nearly 200 veterans to D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. His inspiration for honoring America’s veterans began after he interviewed 10 World War II veterans for a class project and then watched a television segment on the Honor Flight program.
“Simply knowing what those men had done for me and my future and what they had done for our country and the countries of those being oppressed by the fascist/communist leaders over them. I had learned that none of them had really been thanked for their service. I saw the Honor Flight program and thought, why not?” said Peterson, a member of Squadron 54 in Chewelah, Wash. “I just felt like I had to give to the veterans because of all they did for us.”
Peterson’s fundraising efforts started at Post 54 in Chewelah when his family lived in town. The post hosted a nacho dinner that has led to 11 others over the past seven years at other Legion posts in the area. Other donations have been derived from letter writing campaigns, grants, raffle drawings (Post 10 in Wenatchee held a gun raffle), ATV and motorcycle poker rides (Post 97 in Brewster has held several), the selling of Honor Flight wristbands and hat pins through his website, and through the generosity of individual and group donations (several have been made by Post 144 in Metaline Falls, Post 93 in East Sound and Post 47 in Colville).
“The support that the Legion family has shown me is amazing. All of the posts that I have visited have been amazing and really kind to me and my work,” Peterson said. “I really appreciate that some of them continue to raise money for Honor Flight in my honor.”
Peterson has attended nearly all of the Inland Northwest Honor Flight sendoffs since 2010, and has served as a guardian to six World War II veterans and two Vietnam veterans on three trips to D.C.
“I am really honored to be a part of an organization that has given veterans the thanks and respect and closure they really need,” Peterson said. “That’s what it’s all about – the veterans. I’m so thankful to Honor Flight for giving me that experience.”
Peterson said each trip to D.C. with veterans has been meaningful and has helped shape his future. He plans on attending Central Washington University in Ellensburg and joining their ROTC program to become an Army officer.
“All of this work with Honor Flight has just made me appreciate the men and women of our armed forces, of our country’s history, that much more,” he said. “I want to honor those before me and hopefully inspire others behind.”
Aside from his successful fundraising efforts and honoring veterans for their service, the one thing Peterson is most proud of is that people now “get it.”
“I have seen Inland Northwest Honor Flight grow so much since I started helping and that’s awesome,” he said. “I get notes from people who have moved away or were guardians and went back home and found (Honor Flight programs) to donate to or volunteer for. One guy just emailed me and after being a guardian for his dad started volunteering (with Honor Flight) and is now the director of his local Honor Flight. That’s what it’s all about, people helping our veterans, inspiring others to get involved.”
Peterson doesn’t foresee his fundraising efforts for Inland Northwest Honor Flight slowing down anytime soon. And he is appreciative of all the support he has received over the years.
“Everyone took me under their wing and gave me so much support. They all believed in what I was doing,” he said. “There is a lot of good people out there who want to help and I’m so happy that I have had the chance to meet so many of them. Because it was never about me … it was about our military heroes.”