Honored: Veterans remember fallen brothers during trip to D.C.

Vietnam vets search for friends’ names at memorial

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Orsel Morrow, World War II army veteran, visits with the veteran helping him out around Washington, D.C., Saturday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, facing the Washington Monument.

The more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall aren’t just heroes in the abstract.

To veterans of that long war, they are brothers, college buddies, and friends.

For many veterans on the 17th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight, that long black wall was their top destination after they arrived in Washington, D.C., Saturday morning.

“I found him,” Army Veteran Dennis Abel, of Creston, exclaimed as he came across the name he was seeking. “Can you believe, I forgot his name? And he gave me PTSD for 20 years.”

View more photos from the Sept. 15, 2018 honor flight here

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
 Army Veteran Dean Christiansen, who served in Vietnam, takes a rubbing of Steven Backhaus’ name from the Vietnam Memorial wall. He was also there to find Albert Benson’s name. They were a couple college buddies of his, Christiansen said; Backhaus was only in Vietnam a few days.

The name Abel had once forgotten was Daniel Savage, a brother in arms. Savage died in Vietnam on the back of Abel’s tank.

“They said, ‘Abel needs to go to the back. He’s having problems.’ I didn’t really even know I was having problems,” Abel said. “But I spent the next seven months in a motor pool, doing work on tanks and stuff. Didn’t bother me. Went home.

“In 1973, my brother got killed in a toboggan accident, and everything came back and everything went to hell — for 20 years.”

Abel could keep his routine, but had trouble going anywhere at all on his own for 20 years. He thought about suicide, as well.

“But thank God, I had great friends, a great wife and family, and they brought me out of it,” he said. “But it took them 20 years. And I finally had to do it on my own.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole meets U.S. Navy World War II Veteran Harvey Bjornson at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Saturday. Veterans from the flight met with Dole at the memorial, which has a plaque in place thanking Dole for his support of World War II veterans.

Abel and other veterans found names on the wall with the help of a directory run by the U.S. Park Service. Once found, they placed a paper over the name and rubbed with a pencil, to create an etching. Names at the top of the wall could be etched with the help of park service employees with a ladder.

Albert Benson and Steven Backhaus were two other names found on the wall, copied down by Army veteran Dean Christiansen, of Alta.

“I’m looking for two college buddies,” Christiansen said. “We went to Wayne State College in Nebraska together. We were just good friends. I just needed to find them.”

Steve was only in Vietnam for a few days before he was killed, Christiansen said.

“It’s a very humbling experience. We were all young at the time. I was just out of college, about 21, and they were 20.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
2nd Lt. Jordan Helming, with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery of the Iowa Army National Guard, stands at attention as one of the Flags of the Fallen is carried off the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Saturday night at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport. The flags are taken on the flight and photographed at the various monuments the veterans visit, then given to family members upon returning to Fort Dodge.

More than 140 veterans made the flight, taking off early Saturday morning from the Fort Dodge airport and arriving about 10:45 that night. All were in for a busy day of visiting memorials throughout the capital.

Four of the oldest veterans on the flight had served during World War II. Some were from the Korean era, while the majority served during Vietnam.

Robert Broadie, of Ruthven, joined the Navy in 1944 when he was 17. It was a different time back then.

“When I went in, I don’t know. It just seemed like the thing to do,” Broadie said. “My dad had been in World War I, and I knew he wasn’t going to keep me out.”

His mother had some misgivings, especially as Broadie enlisted just after his 17th birthday. But he shipped out nevertheless, eventually serving as a radio man on shore in the Philippines.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
William Bodensteiner, 3, of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, works on making a welcome home sign for his grandfather, Army veteran Michael Fritz, of Fort Dodge, who had taken the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Saturday.

“In boot camp, they’d get you up about 4 o’clock. I can remember swinging over the edge of the bunk and thinking, ‘What in the hell am I doing here?'” Brodie said. “Of course back in those days, kids 16, 17, hadn’t been anywhere. I’d never been out of the state.

“After the war, I didn’t have enough time, they said. I had to stay. Then when that time came up, they said I needed to stay another two or three months because they couldn’t get any replacement. Of course, you know they were making excuses.”

Times changed between when Broadie served and the Vietnam War. Most of the Vietnam veterans didn’t get thanked as they came home, which Broadie felt deeply.

“These boys right here, it was a disaster when they came back from Vietnam. I was ashamed of my country, to be honest,” he said.

Many of those veterans were greeted by protesters, not celebrated.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Veterans Mark Larsen, Ringsted, David Kunkel, Titonka, and Bill Weisbrod, Lone Rock, take in the view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Sunday. The monument gives a stunning view of Washington Monument and reflecting pool, with the U.S. Capitol in the distance.

“The Vietnam veterans when they came home, there was no one there to greet them. Beings as I was within that time frame, it was the same when I walked away,” said James Taylor, Air Force veteran. He served during 1961-65, but on U.S. soil, mostly working within strategic air command at Omaha.

“We had protesters at the main gates on the base. But I never had to go in the main gate myself, so they never bothered me. It was a different time, and a different mindset, I guess,” Taylor said.

Saturday, volunteers tried to make things right.

Flight Organizer Ron Newsome told the veterans to expect 25 to 50 people there to greet them when they landed at Dulles airport. He was pulling their leg. Instead, hundreds lined a walkway from the gate to the front doors of the airport, waving signs and flags to thank the veterans for their service. Among their number were countless students from various organizations, handing out thank-you cards.

“To have so many people there to greet us, especially the young people, I appreciate that so much. I think all the guys did,” Taylor said.

“I can’t believe this,” said Jimmy Belken, of Alden, who served from 1961-1965 in the Navy. “Never in my life — These are all just volunteers.

“Look what they gave me,” he said, holding a hand-drawn card.

“The most impressive thing was the greeting at the airport,” said Bill Weisbrod, of Lone Rock, Navy veteran. “Every guy was tearing up. Kids this small were thanking us.”

“I never expected that in my life,” said David Kunkel, of Titonka, Navy veteran.

Veterans were taken around the city on three buses with a police escort — something new this year. The escort enabled them to make U-turns where they wouldn’t be allowed, and even let the buses drive up Capitol Hill where tour buses are normally banned.

In addition to Vietnam and Korean memorials, they also visited the World War II memorial, memorials for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, and Arlington National Cemetery, where they watched the retiring of the colors in the evening and the ceremonial changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

“I was in the drum corps for years, and the Fort Dodge VFW Rifle Squad,” said Michael Fritz, Army veteran, after watching the tight precision of the honor guard folding the flag at Arlington and being impressed. “You learn how to do it right.”

James Kisner, of Early, served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam starting in 1965. He later was transferred to Quantico in Virginia, so the D.C. area was familiar to him.

“The first night we were there, we disembarked in De Nang and a few hours later they put us back in these boats to run us down the coastline, because there was a unit under fire,” Kisner said, of his time in Vietnam. “We got baptized the first night we were in country.”

The whole day left him awestruck, especially the reception at the airport.

“It was nothing like when I came back the first time. That time I came back to protesters,” Kisner said.

But Kisner’s story of his time after the war is different from many that day.

“I came back, and I learned the truth. Then I was protesting with them,” Kisner said.

He became a war protester because, he said, he learned that the soldiers had been lied to when they were sent off to war.

“I ran into a lot of protesters about the war, and I got educated,” Kisner said. “(The president) was bargaining lives, just to save face.”

Kisner certainly didn’t oppose veterans just because he opposed the war, he said.

“I’m a life member of the DAV and VFW, and a life member of the American Legion. I volunteer in all three,” he said.

With the Disabled American Veterans organization, Kisner drives veterans from all over the state to doctors’ appointments when he’s needed, he said.

“I do a lot for veterans. I would say I’m a patriot,” he said. “And I don’t like the idea of having to go to war just to go to war.”

Kisner was not alone among the veterans saying the number of stops in one day was almost overwhelming.

The Honor Flight truly has a fitting name, said John Priester, of Swea City, Army veteran.

“It’s an honor to be on it. It’s an honor to see it; it’s an honor to be here with people that served. There’s a lot more to this than meets a person’s eye,” Priester said.

“The only bad thing is it’s too short. You can’t see it all.”


Related: It takes an army: Volunteers key to a successful Honor Flight

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Navy Veteran Jimmy Belken, of Alden, shakes hands with Terri Matus as the Honor Flight veterans arrive to a rousing welcome from the Reston Raiders hockey team of Reston, Virginia, at Dulles International Airport.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Navy Veteran James Ross, Gilmore City, poses for a picture in front of the memorial to the U.S. Marines commemorating the taking of Iwo Jima during World War II.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Tyran Wolterman, 4, of Templeton, sits on his dad’s shoulders Saturday night as they wait for the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight to land at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport. They were welcoming Army and Navy veteran Dale Wolterman. The hat is Brian Wolterman’s Sons of the American Legion cap.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Alesha Strain, 13, of Thor, demonstrates her special cap and hair bun flag holding technique Saturday night as she waits for her grandfather, Army veteran Earl Possehn, of Fort Dodge, to return from the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Army Veteran Michael Fritz salutes as honor guard lower the flag for the evening at Arlington National Cemetery. Veterans came to view this ceremony and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while paying their respects to veterans who have passed away.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Veterans tour the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., which includes 3-dimensional metal sculptures of Navy moments. A flag plaque in memory of Sen. John McCain rests under one image, from the Holms-Wayne County Ohio Veterans.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
 John Liszewski, of Living History/Eastern Shore Greeters, meets World War II veterans of the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight at the World War II memorial. Liszewski said the group usually has reenactors playing Gen. Patton and air force pilots on the grounds.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Veterans from Honor Flights from the Fort Dodge region, Wisconsin, and Florida tour the Korean War Memorial Saturday.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Doyle Fry, Navy Veteran, is greeted by Terri Matus, Ella Smith and the Reston Raiders hocky team at Dulles Airport, as the Honor Flight veterans were treated to a welcome by hundreds of volunteers.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Honor Flight veterans gather for a hot boxed lunch at the Air Force Memorial near the end of their busy day touring Washington, D.C.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
World War II Navy Veteran Robert Broadie, of Ruthven, gets help from veteran Robert Willie, of Clare, as he tours the World War II memorial with his granddaughter Amanda Kunzmann, left.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Framed by an etching of flying planes on a pane of glass, Air Force Veteran James Taylor takes in the wall of Airmen Medal of Honor Recipients at the Air Force Memorial. One of the names honored on the wall is ace pilot Maj. George Day, of Sioux City.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter The four World War II Veterans from the Sept. 2018 Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight pose in front of the wall of stars at the WWII memorial. From left Orsel Morrow, Army; Harvey Bjornson, Navy; Richard Hussey, Army; and Robert Broadie, Navy. Each star stands in for 100 military deaths in the war.

-Messenger photo illustration by Joe Sutter
A large crowd fills Dulles Airport to welcome the veterans of the Brushy Creek Area Honor flight Saturday, in this image made from multiple photos.