An emotional journey
Area veterans take part in 18th Brushy Creek Honor Flight
The roughly 160 veterans who boarded the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight jet in the pre-dawn darkness in Fort Dodge Saturday were told that perhaps 50 people would greet them when they landed near Washington, D.C.
They were unprepared for what they encountered when they stepped into the terminal of Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
As soon as the first Iowa veteran came into sight, a crowd estimated at some 400 people exploded into cheers and applause. Children waved small American flags, while men and women reached out to shake the veterans’ hands. A men’s chorus sang patriotic songs.
Robert Paul Boyce, a Marine Corps veteran from Lake City, walked into the airport, stopped and stood still as he took in the sight of the cheering throng. He had served in the 1960s when the military and its veterans weren’t very popular. This was the welcome he didn’t get when he came home from overseas service. He had to wipe tears from his eyes before walking down the aisle formed by two rows of cheering people.
This isn’t something I’ll forget, I’ll tell you that,” Boyce said later Saturday
Marvin Hamer, of Eagle Grove, who served in the Army during the final year of World War II, was also amazed by the welcome.
”I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Air Force veteran Roger Jacobs, of Melvin, said the welcome was a surprise that left him struggling with his emotions.
”It was wonderful,” he said. ”I never saw anything like it. It was pretty hard to keep from getting choked up.”
The spirit of that cheering crowd followed the veterans throughout their daylong tour of the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
The itinerary included stops at the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial and Air Force Memorial.
The group also went to Arlington National Cemetery, where the veterans watched the exercise in military precision that is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.
”Every place you went, people were shaking your hand no matter what age they were,” said Army veteran David H. Anderson, of Harcourt. ”That was so nice.”
The veterans traveled in three buses, with a lights and sirens escort from the United States Park Police, which protects the various monuments.
The trip was the 18th one for the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight.
There were 164 veterans on the flight. Two served in World War II, 13 served in the Korean War and the rest were Vietnam War era veterans.
Also on board the plane were six American flags in honor of veterans who died before they were able to go on an Honor Flight. The flags were photographed at the various memorials and were presented to the families of the veterans when the flight returned to Fort Dodge Regional Airport.
Motivated by a desire to get his late father, Navy veteran Clem Hentges, to the World War II Memorial, Ron Newsum, of Fort Dodge, began working in late 2009 to start what became the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight. The first trip took place on May 1, 2010. Hentges made that trip.
Since then about 2,500 veterans have traveled to Washington via the local Honor Flight.
Nationally, the Honor Flight program was created to get World War II veterans to their memorial. The ranks of those veterans are rapidly dwindling and the flights have been opened to Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. But some World War II veterans still make the trip.
Hamer and Kieth Tadlock, of Spirit Lake, were the only two World War II veterans on Saturday’s Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight. On Saturday afternoon, they sat in their wheelchairs at the World War II Memorial, shaking hands with a steady stream of people who wanted to thank them for their service.
Hamer served in an Army engineer unit from 1945 to 1947. He had never seen the memorial, or Washington, D.C., before Saturday’s trip.
”I think it’s fantastic,” Hamer said of the memorial.
Tadlock served in the Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, He was a nose gunner on a four-engine bomber called a B-24 Liberator in the 494th Bombardment Group, nicknamed Kelley’s Kobras. He had visited the memorial previously.
”I fell in love with this the first time I saw it years ago, ” he said.
The honors for the veterans didn’t stop when their whirlwind tour of Washington concluded. The returning flight was greeted at Fort Dodge Regional Airport by a crowd of some 250 people, including a band and members of the Knights of Columbus in full regalia.
Looking back on the day’s events, Air Force veteran Dave Mills, of Gowrie, didn’t hestiate a moment before naming his favorite part of the trip: ”The way the families, men and women shook our hands and said thank you.”