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Like Family: Freedom Flight gives thanks for support from local VFW post

NATCHEZ — Thanks to a group of local veterans, one balloon has stood out from the field of rainbow colors that dot the sky each balloon festival.

The black balloon emblazoned with the image of barbed wire and the initials POW-MIA has been piloted by Minnesota pilot Wyn Gustafson for the past 28 years.

The balloon, made possible by the nonprofit organization Freedom Flight, flies each year to bring awareness to Prisoner of War and Missing in Action issues. Managed and operate with all-volunteer labor, Freedom Flight flies hot-air balloons across the country. Gustafson is one of the group’s volunteer pilots.

“Each year, local VFW Post 9573 has sponsored the balloon and helped bring us down,” Gustafson said.

In appreciation for the many years of support Gustafson and other volunteers in Minnesota decided they wanted to do something special for this year’s race.

“Over the years, we have become friends — kind of like family,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson and his wife Betty Henneberg have watched their 16-year-old daughter grow up at the annual festival.

After much discussion, the group decided to have a quilt made using 25 Freedom Flight T-shirts that have been created over the years. Each year Freedom Flight creates a new T-shirt design, Gustafson said.

The large 5×5 block quilt features each T-shirt design bordered in a black pattern and is quilted with a stich that resembles clouds.

“We plan to give it to the VFW Saturday night at their fish fry,” Gustafson said.

VFW member Mary Lawrence has seen the quilt and said she is thankful for the beautiful gift.

Lawrence said VFW members will consider what to do with the quilt after the presentation, including raffling it off to raise money for local veteran causes.

“What we get, we put back into helping the community,” Lawrence said.

For more information about the quilt and about VFW Post call Lawrence at 318-509-9070 or call Post Commander John Floyd at 601-392-6700.