By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Finding her calling
Bea Patterson has helped coordinate 45 Badger Honor Flights since 2010
Bea Patterson has been helping local veterans take a trip to Washington DC with the Badger Honor Flight. Since 2010, she has helped coordinate about 45 flights. - photo by Adam Krebs

JUDA — A woman from this small town spent her life serving others working in the healthcare industry but after retirement she found a new calling — organizing flights for the Badger Honor Flight organization.

The volunteer is Bae Patterson, and she has worked to help coordinate about 45 flights to Washington, DC from Madison. Volunteering with the organization since 2010, the 76-year-old also has personally flown on two honor flights.

The honor flight provides all amenities to honor veterans, including transportation, meals and lodging, while they are visiting Washington D.C. The hub in Madison serves veterans from a large swath of southern Wisconsin, including those from Green, Rock and Lafayette Counties. 

Badger Honor Flight was created to ensure World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and terminally ill veterans get the opportunity to see the memorials erected in their names as people who fought during those conflicts. Each flight carries up to 95 vets to DC.

While the trip is free for veterans, the total cost of a flight is roughly $95,000, according to the Badger Honor Flight website. Guardians who tag along have to pay their own trip fee, in the $250 range.

“The veterans all need to be properly thanked, honored and welcomed because most were not when they came home from wars,” said Patterson. “It’s once in a lifetime and what it means to them you can’t even imagine.”

The most recent flight she helped with was on a Saturday in late October, — when about 90 vets made the trip under the watchful and caring eye of Patterson and the many other Badger Honor Flight volunteers.

“Bea is Badger Honor Flight in Green County,” said Brian Ziegler, chairman of the board for the nonprofit. “She’s one of several we have that have been with us for a long time and have a lot of passion for finding and recruiting veterans to go.”

Among the flights, one of her favorites was a trip with a planeload of all female veterans last June.

“It’s not like we don’t have women on our flights but the thought was that it would really honor them by having them on their own flight,” she said. “It was very well received.”

Patterson spent her career working in healthcare in Monroe and Madison. She began, she said, in 1969 at Monroe Hospital. She was a dedicated healthcare worker.

“When I got home after a long shift, I would still call in to check on the patients,” she said.

She retired as an anesthesia tech. Throughout her career, she has been heavily influenced, she said, by many of the prominent local doctors with whom she worked.

Over the years, many veterans from the area have made the trip. When Gene Mason, then 87, went a few years ago, he described one of the monuments — the Korean Monument — as the scene of a lifelike patrol of soldiers moving above the front line. 

Mason served in the Korean War from 1950 to June of 1952.

“It brought you right back there,” Mason told The Monroe Times in 2016. He died in December 2021 at the age of 93.

He was drafted while attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he was lauded as an all-around athlete, continuing his sports career from Monroe. Mason joined the 25th Army Infantry Division, eventually serving as a corporal. While in combat, Mason said, despite being hit with shrapnel and sustaining head injuries, he was luckier than the handful of men around him who died as a result of the hand grenade. Ultimately, He was sent to a MASH hospital, never again to serve on the front lines.

In 2015 South Wayne resident and veteran Don Brooker traveled to Washington D.C. and back with his eldest daughter, Deborah, and fellow veterans, during a Badger Honor Flight. Many others have gone as well and they are the reason Patterson said she does all of the work.

Patterson said that it was tough when Honor Flights were postponed for two years due to COVID-19 fears and mandates. There’s plenty of vets still waiting since they have resumed.

“For some, it’s their first time to DC,” said Greg Locher who coordinates flights with American Airlines, quoted in Badger Honor Flight marketing material. “For most, it’s their last. But for all, it’s the trip of a lifetime.”