A hero’s welcome
145 take part in 15th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight
WASHINGTON D.C. — The Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight took to the skies for the 15th time on Saturday, giving 145 veterans the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and the memorials from the wars they fought.
During the daylong trip to the nation’s capital, veterans were taken to the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial as well as the Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and the Air Force Memorial.
Many veterans expressed how impressed they were throughout the day with how organized the tour was, their thankfulness for the opportunity to attend and, for some, a chance to heal some wounds.
Several veterans said that although they enjoyed all of the memorials, they also were very honored with the receptions they received.
Karl “Skip” Smith, of Fort Dodge, said he has been on the list to attend an Honor Flight for two years.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “I have been looking forward to seeing the Vietnam wall the most.”
Smith said he served from 1969 to 1970 in Vietnam as a tanker driver and enjoyed the welcome they received.
“We weren’t greeted at all coming home, so it’s been fantastic taking off, and getting to D.C. was remarkable,” he said.
When the veterans made their way off the airplane at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, they received a greeting that surprised them all. Close to 200 military men and women, young children and others were in attendance to welcome them.
Paul Kail, of Farnhamville, said the greetings could have more of an impact on the veterans than most realize. “When I got off of the plane in San Francisco, I had to walk across the tarmac, and we were immediately pelleted with beer bottles, coke bottles and everything else,” he said.
Kail said arriving in Washington reminded him a lot of that day — exiting the plane, making his way through the airport — only this time it was definitely a better experience.
“We arrived here with well-wishing people,” he said. “It is amazing. And it’s kind of hard for some of us, it’s relatively tough to take. It’s a diabolical change; it’s altogether different. I think it’s going to do a lot towards healing some wounds. I never tried to make a big deal out of it, but I wasn’t real pleased with that reception back then.”
Kail said he served from Dec. 5, 1965, to Dec. 5, 1966, in the Army where he was stationed near Saigon for the entire year.
“I was one of the lucky guys to come back from my squad, so you are talking to a really, really lucky gentleman,” said Kail.
He said the Vietnam War was “an unnecessary evil.”
“I was a farm boy. It was June 1, 1965, and obviously with a No. 2 draft number in Calhoun County, it was just a matter of time,” he said.
Kail said he was excited to see “any and all of it” during the daylong tour.
“It’s a great day,” he said. “And it’s just amazing the general populous are willing to fund and send us. I can’t say enough good or pass enough accolades along to whomever, wherever; $100,000 for a trip is not an easy fix.”
Larry Olson of Spirit Lake, an Air Force veteran, said the welcome was something he never anticipated.
“I had no expectations that would happen,” he said. “I was in Vietnam and when I got home, I had to sneak back in. This is so emotional and long deserving.”
James Hassett, of Humboldt, is a veteran of the Air Force. He said he questioned if he should attend the Honor Flight because he didn’t spend his time overseas in Vietnam, but rather in Germany.
“But now, I think anyone that has spent time in the service should come on this,” he said. “You’ve got to come on this if you have the chance. In fact, I am hoping to go home and donate some money to help someone else to go on it, to help get some money for more flights. It’s great.”
In addition to getting the opportunity to visit the Air Force Memorial, Hassett said the welcome they have all received was his favorite.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Getting off of the plane, there were about 140, 200 people standing there, shaking your hands, cheering you on; the little kids, Cub Scouts, and that was awesome and everywhere we stopped today — it’s just fantastic.”
World War II
Allie “Vern” Brown, from Blockton, was one of two World War II veterans that attended the 15th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight.
Brown said his service came in after the war was over in 1946.
“I got off the boat the second of May and ended up driving truck and did some guard duty,” he said.
During the stop at the World War II Memorial, Brown said he thought it was real nice and as far as attending the Honor Flight was glad he took the opportunity.
“I heard it was real nice, and I just wanted to do it,” he said.
Alva Parker, from Creston, a Korean War veteran, took in the opportunity to visit the Korean War Memorial and said he has enjoyed his experience.
“It’s fantastic; I have enjoyed this immensely,” he said.
Parker spoke of the 19 stainless steel statues at the Korean War Memorial of troops covering their weapons and equipment with their ponchos.
“The ponchos and all of the cold weather that came with it, we didn’t figure it could get so cold and stay cold,” Parker said. “We would dig a round hole to stand in, and it never did warm up. There was a lot of frost bite, and some guys had to have their feet and legs removed.”
Parker said he served in Korea in the Army during 1951-1953.
Fellow Korean War veteran Bob Staats, also of Creston, served as a radar operator in the Air Force during his term, which he said happened to be after the Korean War was over.
Staats said he was thankful to be able to visit the Korean War Memorial.
“This brings back a lot of memories of the ones that didn’t come back,” he said.
The majority of the veterans, well over 100 of those on the flight, served during the Vietnam War.
Stephen Harjes, of Sac City, was emotional as he stood at the wall where he placed a picture of a friend who was killed during the Vietnam War.
“It (the picture) belongs here,” he said. “He was a friend of mine in Vietnam. He was supposed to go home and see his baby he never seen, in a week, and was killed before he could go.”
Harjes said his friend carried a radio during the war. which made him a target.
“I carried an M-16 which made me one too,” he said. “I was lucky.”
Harjes said he was sent to Vietnam in November 1969 and served in the Americal Division in the 196th Brigade for 18 months.
The Honor Flight, he said, was something he always wanted to do and especially have the chance to visit the Vietnam wall.
“It is a good deal for people like me,” he said. “This is a hell of a memorial. I am impressed; it is great.”
Jim Hruska, of Fort Dodge, said he was drafted into the Army in 1965 and was fortunate to be stationed in Germany for the 18 months of his military service.
“Sometimes I feel guilty coming on the Honor Flight because I wasn’t into combat,” he said. “But I talked to a lady selling poppies at Walmart one time, and she said you don’t have to have been in the combat zone, all you have to be is a veteran, and every veteran should come see this.
Hruska said he encourages all veterans to attend an honor flight.
“They need to come and look at the wall and see their fellow soldiers. Some may not be able to come and do that, but they need to come and remember them,” he said. “Today has been wonderful. Going through the airport brought tears to my eyes. The soldiers that were there, the people that came with their little kids, I mean, I never shook so many hands in my life. It was amazing.”
Hruska said he was also honoring his late next door neighbor, World War II veteran Bob Knight.
“He passed before they started these flights, so I am coming to see these memorials for him, but for me too,” he said.
Honoring those who are gone
A special way to honor those veterans that have passed away is to bring their flag along on the flights.
Daniel Larson was in charge of escorting the flag of late Robert Ewing, a WWII veteran. Ewing’s son, Mike Ewing presented the flag to the Brushy Creek Honor Flight board during the banquet held prior to the flight.
“He’s here in spirit, but not in body,” said Ron Newsum, chairman of the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Committee.
“He would have wanted to have gone on a flight,” said Larson.