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Detail-loving, behind-the-scenes organizer helps Honor Flights cruise smoothly

Beth Bouley and Tod Ganje, volunteers for the WDAY Honor Flight, stand in front of the Arlington National Memorial Amphitheater on Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Arlington, Va. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)1 / 2
Beth Bouley, logistics chief for the WDAY Honor Flight, escorts veteran Donald Hansen back to his tour bus at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Arlington, Va. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)2 / 2

FARGO—In September 2007, Beth Bouley stood at the World War II Memorial in Washington as part of the WDAY Honor Flight with her father, U.S. Navy veteran Richard Quesnell, when a young girl and her mother approached them.

"I want my daughter to meet a hero," the mother said.

As the young girl chatted with Quesnell, who served in the South Pacific during the war, Bouley didn't even try to fight the tears of pride welling up for her father and all veterans.

In that moment, Bouley knew she "had the fever," and after watching the gestures of appreciation and respect showered on her father and other veterans participating in the Honor Flight program, Bouley knew she wanted to get involved.

"I was so intensely overwhelmed by the whole experience that when I got home, I said to my husband, 'This has to keep going,'" she said.

In the years since, Bouley has helped organize numerous Honor Flights in four different cities, one of the army of volunteers it takes to pull off the free trips for veterans.

Each trip includes about 90 veterans, many who are upwards of 80 years old, along with their family. Over the course of two days and one night, veterans from World War II and the Korean War visit many of the nation's major memorials in Washington.

In Washington, strangers from across the world often stop the Honor Flight veterans to show their appreciation. Bouley said not only is it her honor to witness those moments of gratitude, what she learns from each of the hundreds of veterans she has escorted on trips is priceless.

"Oh my gosh what they've taught me: They've taught me about dignity. They've taught me about doing what you have to do and doing the right thing," Bouley said. "They were just doing their jobs. And in some cases, their job destroyed the rest of their lives, because of what they witnessed. But (Honor Flights) make them deal with it finally, after they've buried it for years and years. In their older years, they are starting to come around and face their demons."

The WDAY Honor Flight program serves just World War II and Korean War Veterans. While the number of World War II veterans on the trips has decreased, 19 of the 90 veterans on the Honor Flight earlier this month served in WWII.

Kylie Hensley, who accompanied her father, Rolland Peterson, on a 2015 WDAY Honor Flight before his death in 2016, said the trip had been a highlight of his life.

"It's so nice for these guys to be remembered," Hensley said of the trips.

Bouley, who lives in Grand Forks, returned home from her first trip with her father and began working with Tracy Briggs, a Forum News Service journalist and one of the founders of the Fargo-based WDAY Honor Flight, one of dozens of similar programs across the U.S.

Bouley mentored under Briggs before helping get a Grand Forks-based Honor Flight chapter off the ground, then moving on to help organize five Honor Flights out of Bismarck in 2009, 2010 and 2011. She was then recruited to help organize flights out of Billings, Mont., where she took two flights with Montana veterans.

Bouley has traveled on six of the eight WDAY Honor Flights. While at home, she takes questions and phone calls from veterans and their families, but in the air and in Washington is where her real work begins, she said.

"From the time we know we are going to take a flight, that's when my job really kicks in," Bouley said.

From working with the national Honor Flight group to ensure a crowd of volunteers is on the ground in Washington to greet the veterans when they arrive to ensuring the promised police escort is waiting to usher the five buses full of veterans and their families around the city, Bouley is one of the primary point people for the Honor Flight volunteers and veterans.

When two veterans who are friends go on the trip, Bouley makes sure they are able to sit together on the plane and can share a room at the hotel.

"I love detail. Detail just kind of fascinates me, so I do detail well," Bouley said.

No task to ensure the veterans are accommodated is too big or too small for Bouley, Briggs said.

"She (and Tod Ganje) are really our behind-the-scenes heroes," Briggs said.

Bouley calls Ganje, a travel agent and founding member of the WDAY Honor Flight, her partner in crime. "Tod is a very clear, smooth thinker, and I love that," she said.

Bouley, whose son just retired from an 11-year military career and whose son-in-law is still in the military, plans to continue to work with the WDAY Honor Flight. But she has also been asked by the national Honor Flight organizers to help mentor those helping a Native Veterans Honor Flight take off from Belcourt, N.D., in the near future. The all-Native American veteran flight will be the first of its kind from North Dakota.

"I'm not a veteran but it runs deep in the family," Bouley said. "Really, just to see the looks on (veterans') faces when people show them their appreciation, it's all worth it. Oh, and we have a lot of fun. These guys are incredible."

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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