As the founder of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Joe Dean has exhibited tremendous vision, passion and resolve towards recognizing our amazing veterans. His ability to help rally a community of donors and volunteers is unsurpassed. Joe recognized that The Greatest Generation is slowly fading away; Stars and Stripes Honor Flight has pledged to celebrate each and every remaining WWII and Korean War hero before it is too late.
Inspired by his late father and Navy hero, David Dean, a seed was planted in 2008 when Joe saw a brief TV segment featuring Earl Morse about a new program called Honor Flight. As many of us do, he absent-mindedly wished someone else would start a program just like that close to home. Upon waking the next morning, he thought, “Darn it, I know who should to this”; it was at that point he decided to go all in. Within days, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight wheels were in motion. Recruiting the busiest people he knew, Joe asked each potential Board member three questions: “Why not here?”, “Why not us?”, and “Why not now?”. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Board of Directors became a reality and the board booked the first flight, with a grand total of $250 in the bank. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight story was told one person, one small group at a time, and grew from tiny fundraisers to major partnerships with many local organizations and individuals, who have all stepped forward to ensure that our Veterans feel appreciated. On November 5th, the 37th Honor Flight out of Milwaukee returned home from a one-day trip to Washington D.C. This trip marked the third Stars and Stripes Honor Flight this fall…to-date, 4,746 vets have taken this trip since inception in 2008. These Vets were each treated to a trip of a lifetime to visit the memorials built in their honor, and returned to a rousing homecoming at Mitchell Airport.
Among the other legacies attributed to the Stars and Stripes Honor flight is “Honor Flight – A Visual Journey”, a glorious art book that captures the treasured memories and faces of WWII veterans on Honor Flights to Washington D.C. which helps raise funds for Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and Fisher House Wisconsin, and “Honor Flight – One Last Mission”, a heartwarming documentary about four WWII veterans and a Wisconsin community coming together to give them a trip of a lifetime. This movie set a Guinness World Record for attendance at a movie premiere when it played before 28,442 viewers at Miller Park in August 2012. Clearly, when Joe goes “all in”, there is nothing that is out of reach!
Joe, his wife Jane, and countless volunteers have given selflessly of their time, talent and resources to create more than a magnificent organization – they have created a major movement! One would be hard-pressed to identify a program that has done more to recognize our valued veterans that Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.
For all of these reasons, Joe Dean is awarded with the November Wisconsin Hero Award!