Jeff Bastable ’65 recognizes veterans with Honor Flight
Jeff Bastable’s ties to the Armed Forces run deep. Both his father and father-in-law served as physicians in World War II, and his son, daughter, and son-in-law are all veteran Navy officers. His uncle, LeGrande Howell, served in the Navy in World War II before joining the faculty of Williston Academy in the 1950s (and later put in a good word for young Jeff with Headmaster Phil Stevens). So when Bastable first heard about the Syracuse, N.Y., hub of Honor Flight, a national network that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials that were built in their honor, Bastable did not hesitate to enlist. Today, as the hub’s director of philanthropy and a member of the board, he has helped lead all but one of the group’s 14 trips, and says that it is “the best thing we’ve ever done.”
That “we” is Bastable and his wife, Susan, who also volunteers with the group, serving as a medical chaperone on what the group calls its “missions.” A nurse and educator who was the founding dean of the Le Moyne College nursing program, Susan first heard of Honor Flight and put Jeff in touch with the Syracuse chapter’s president, Rear Admiral John Paddock. “I said, John, you can count on me,” recalls Bastable, who was disqualified from military service himself by a blood pressure condition. “I don’t know what I have to do, but I’ll do it.”
Founded by Earl Morse, an Ohio physician assistant who in 2005 recruited members of his Air Force aeroclub to fly a dozen veterans to Washington in small planes, Honor Flight now charters commercial jets for its all-expenses-paid tours of the nation’s capital. The group has transported some 250,000 veterans to date, many of them in their 80s and 90s (although veterans of any age are welcome). The day is marked by events honoring the vets at Washington’s various memorials, as well as a celebratory reception at their local airport upon their return. Since 2013, Bastable’s Syracuse hub has flown nearly 1,000 veterans, an achievement recognized in November when the couple were honored with Onondaga County’s 2020 Friend of Veterans Award. While the COVID-19 pandemic put the group’s twice-a-year missions on hold, they hope to resume flights in April.
A former health care management executive and hospital CEO, Bastable had a long history as a community volunteer and fund-raiser before joining Honor Flight, including more than 30 years with the United Way. He finds the work with Honor Flight particularly rewarding. “To see the joy in the faces of those veterans when they experience that day, and what they write us about afterwards, it’s unbelievable,” he says.
Being able to connect personally with those who witnessed history has also given Bastable a new appreciation of the subject he studied with Robert Varnum ’60 at Williston. “Bob understood what I didn’t as a 17-year-old boy, that history is not so much about the dates. It’s the why, what, and how,” says Bastable. “And now I’m hearing these stories about the Battle of the Bulge from guys who were there, or what it was like to be on the beach at Normandy.”
The veterans’ stories, in turn, reveal a level of character that today has become all too rare, he adds. “Service was so important,” he says. “To hear their humility and their commitment to their country, even as young kids, it just heartens me at a time when it’s hard to find those kinds of values.”
Bastable says his own commitment to community service was inspired by his friendship with his Williston roommate Robert Childs ’65, who died in a hiking accident in Switzerland the summer before he was to begin his studies at Yale. Childs’ personality, intellect, and promise left such an impression on Bastable that today, when faced with a test of values, he still asks himself, What would Bob do? Working with Honor Flight is Bastable’s most recent answer. “In a sense,” he says, “it’s serving Bob’s purpose.”
To learn more about Honor Flight Syracuse, go to honorflightsyracuse.org.