HAGERSTOWN — A large motorcade of 12 tour buses and motorhomes rolled in to Hagerstown’s Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Monday afternoon, carrying 200 men and women who served the United States during World War II and the Korean War.
Along with 100 assistants traveling with the veterans, the group left Beloit, Wis., Sunday morning and made a stop in Pittsburgh that night before arriving in Hagerstown for the second year in a row, according to Mark Finnegan, founder of VetsRoll.org, which organizes the yearly trip.
The group heads to Washington, D.C., Tuesday to tour the war memorials in the nation’s capital before heading back to Wisconsin on Wednesday morning, Finnegan said.
The VetsRoll program was the brainchild of Finnegan and his brother, John, who work for an RV dealership in Illinois. Finnegan said it is patterned after the successful flights that are held around the country in honor of American war veterans.
The inaugural trip in 2010 consisted of about 125 veterans, but has since grown tremendously, Finnegan said.
“This year it’s just really exploding,” he said, adding that almost all the veterans are from Wisconsin or Illinois.
The only program of its kind, it gives veterans a chance to see the eastern United States without the hassle of flying, Finnegan said. The organization is in the process of trying to franchise the idea to bring VetsRoll to more veterans across the country, he added.
One veteran on the trip, Steve Reiner of Sheboygan, Wis., said he was looking forward to it for almost six months. Reiner was drafted into the Army in 1952 and served during the Korean conflict.
“This is fantastic,” Reiner said before dinner at the Clarion.
Monday’s program included a performance by the Navy Band and addresses from Rear Adm. Martha Herb and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.
VetsRoll also organized mail call for the veterans, which included almost 7,000 letters written to veterans by school-aged children and family members as a way to re-create the excitement of receiving mail while serving overseas, Finnegan said.
Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham and other community and local tourism members were on hand to greet veterans at the hotel.
“The hotel facility here at the Clarion, we hope it becomes a permanent home for VetsRoll,” Finnegan said. “There’s nothing bad about it. The location is great. The hospitality out here is out of this world. We’re just thrilled about it.”
Upon returning to Wisconsin on Wednesday, another grand celebration is planned, Finnegan said.
“We’ll have a huge fireworks celebration with thousands and thousands of people,” he said.
The group stopped to tour the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., on its way to Hagerstown.