Lorraine Arthur, owner of Loradella’s Family Pizzeria in Jersey City, got a call last fall asking if her place could accommodate a bus load of veterans who were scheduled to take a trip to the New York area in early May.
Susie Webster Campbell, of Chesapeake City, who has organized trips for veterans to destinations up and down the East Coast since 2011, said she had sought out places in New York, but could not find one willing to accommodate the 55 veterans taking this year’s trip to the Intrepid and 9/11 museum.
“When we take them on the ride, we feed them, and I was looking for someplace where we could go after the tour. New York City is also very expensive, so I started looking for places in New Jersey,” Campbell said. “I thought maybe we would find a VFW and use their hall to order pizza. But all the VFWs were located on tiny little streets, where we could never get our bus down. So I started looking at restaurants for one we could afford. When I called some, they said they could not accommodate us. Then I called Loradella’s. They said they would be more than happy to have us.”
Arthur said when Webster called, she was thrilled to have them.
“They were wonderful,” Arthur said. “We decorated for them in red, white and blue. And next year, when they come back, we’re going to decorate the front of the building as well.”
Arthur called them “honored vets,” and said there were about 60 people total.
With the help of her chef Adel Musdafa, Arthur laid out a full buffet, and donated additional food at no charge. The food included dishes with white clam sauce, full Caesar salad, egg plant parmesan.
“We donated meat lasagna,” she said. “And we also supplied them with pizza.”
But the big hit was the cannolis.
“We had 55 orders of cannolis. They loved it,” Arthur said.
Loradella’s has been operating at its current location on 126 River Drive South for about six and a half years.
“We can’t wait to have them back next year,” she said.
Trips started in 2011
Campbell said the trips started after her father died in 2011.
“I wanted to find a way to help people,” she said, after having seen how her father had struggled during the last few weeks of his life.
“I decided to deliver meals to seniors,” she said.
During one of these deliveries, Campbell met a 93-year old World War II veteran. Her grandfather had served in World War II, so she had a real connection with this vet.
When she told him about the World War II monument in Washington D.C., he told her he had never seen it – even though the monument was only a two-hour ride from where he lived at the time.
She arranged for a friend to drive him down to Washington DC to see it. He cried when he did.
“When I came home and told my mom, she told me that Dow Chemical Company had a program called ‘Honor Flights’ that flew former employees to see it.”
She began to wonder how many other World War II veterans never saw the memorial.
“But with us living so close, flying didn’t make sense. But I thought, why not do an honor bus?” Campbell said.
She searched out bus companies, and then began reaching out for donations. That first year she received enough donations to afford two trips.
The first trip to Washington involved only 12 veterans. But over the years, word of mouth drew a lot of attention to her trips. This trip this year brought 55 veterans to the New York area.
Word got out to various veterans organizations, hoping they would pick up the fundraising, and they did.
Groups like the Military Order of the Purple Heart, with its non-profit status, allowed the donations to become tax deductible.
Other donors included the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion posts in Maryland, and local businesses and private citizens. Each trip costs about $4,000.
Vets who take the trip get a t-shirt commemorating the trip as well as lunch and dinner.
Campbell plans the itinerary, manages the reservations, and picks the destination.
“After the first few trips, we decided to mix it up,” she said.
So that the trips included visits to various sites along the East Coast.
“I like to pick military locations like the Intrepid Museum in New York,” she said.
In 2016, the bus trip visited the Statue of Liberty in Jersey City and Ellis Island
Trips have gone to DC, but New York has the USS Intrepid and the 9/11 memorial, which they went to this year. They are also planning a trip to Gettysburg.
She also opened the trip up to other veterans, so this year’s trip included veterans from Vietnam and Desert Storm.
Some veterans keep coming back, such as Albert Simmons who was on her first trip, or more recently William Minton, who took the latest trip to see the Intrepid, on which he had served during the Vietnam War. Another Vietnam War Vet, John Asem, was on this trip, as was Kathy Mosher, who is a member of a Gold Star Family and who served in Operation Desert Storm.
There was a lot of interaction among the vets during the ride and when they reached their destination, and part of the trip is to create memories and to allow the veterans to keep their own memories alive.
The excursions are something she says she will continue to do. Many veterans also asked her about future plans at the end of the trip.