CEDAR RAPIDS — Participants in a fundraiser Saturday pulled a tremendous cause to help local veterans — nearly 140,000 pounds, in fact.
The first-ever Pulling for Honor, held Saturday morning at The Eastern Iowa Airport, was a plane pull competition that aimed to raise thousands of dollars for former U.S. servicemen and women.
The event was held to benefit Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that takes U.S. veterans to Washington, D.C.
Teams grouped in two rounds competed to determine which team could pull a 137,000-pound 757 FedEx cargo jet 12 feet the fastest.
It was a virtual tie between two teams, said Leighton Smith, a volunteer who spearheaded the event. In the end, the Linn Star Transfer company team went home with the traveling trophy with a time of 6.422 seconds. A combination team of Spotix and the Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman law firm came in a close second at 6.534 seconds.
“I feel like I’ve just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson,” said Matt Adam, a member of the Spotix/SPMB team and a volunteer on the event planning committee, after his team’s pull.
17 teams of about 25 individuals signed up for the plane pull, and two more impromptu teams were formed during the day, Smith said. That’s more than 400 plane pullers.
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Most of the teams formed were primarily corporate teams who were sponsoring the event, including Hy-Vee and Rockwell Collins. Central administration from the University of Iowa also participated in the event, including President Bruce Harreld and Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president of finance and operations. The university was challenged by Carroll Reasoner, legal counsel for the university, and administrators were thrilled to participate, Lehnertz said.
Pulling for Honor organizers hoped to raise enough to send one plane full of veterans and their guardians to D.C. next summer from The Eastern Iowa Airport, said Marty Lenss, director of the airport.
From team fees and sponsors, the event raised about $36,500, Smith said. Although it will be a few days before organizers know the total from other freewill donations, Smith estimated the event raised about $40,000 overall.
Although short of the initial $50,000 goal, Smith said organizers have already decided to host Pulling for Honor next year.
Looking at the hundreds of people who attended the event throughout the morning, organizers were confident the fundraiser was popular enough to merit a repeat.
“It feels like we got a lot of momentum to keep this going in the future,” Adam said.
The Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 33 was also present at the event to offer free plane rides to kids ages 8-17 through the Young Eagles program. The program, which aims to inspire an interest in aviation, had more than 60 children sign up in the first hour alone, Lenss said. By the end of the event, Smith said Young Eagles reached its biggest ever event in Eastern Iowa at over 100 flights.
Eastern Iowa Honor Flight is a part of the Honor Flight Network, which works across 44 states providing free daylong trips to the nation’s capital for World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans to see memorials built in their honor. Since 2009, the organization has served 2,062 veterans in 10 counties, said George Rickey, public relations coordinator for the organization.
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Rickey said the trips are often emotional for the veterans, who often say the trip was the first real thank you they have ever received.
“On our last flight, we had a Vietnam veteran who found one of his platoon members on the Vietnam wall,” Rickey said. “He said to me, ‘I finally feel accepted for where I’ve gone and what I had to do.’”
Howard Purty, a Vietnam veteran in the Marine Corps and a Vinton resident, said Honor Flight is a way veterans get the coming home ceremony they never had — something they absolutely deserve, he said.
“This is a way to pay them back for their service,” Purty said.
For more information on the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, visit eihonorflight.org.