Another Honor Flight welcomed home by crowd

Carol Heatherington is plain crazy.

Oh, I said that wrong. It’s plane crazy. She’s part of that group of crazy people who jump out of airplanes. But that’s not why she was at the airport late on May 11.

That night she helped welcome home more than 100 veterans on the sixth Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight. All but a half dozen of those veterans were from the Korean Conflict.

Her brothers, Elwyn “Sandy” Sandgren of the Army and Arnold Sandgren of the Marines, were honored posthumously, their families given flags that had been taken to the Korean War Veterans Memorial that Saturday.

Each Honor Flight takes veterans to Washington D.C. to see the war monuments. Each flight brings huge crowds out to the airport to welcome home these veterans with cheers and applause.

Though likely exhausted from a full day, every veteran coming off the plane and walking through the crowd did so with a broad grin.

“Boy, this is the royal treatment.” one man said as he grabbed a hand from the crowd.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you all for coming.”

“If I don’t fall down, I’ll be all right.”

OK, that’s how I felt, too. I just didn’t say it.

My daughter Dana and I got to the airport by 9:30 p.m., an hour before the flight would be back. We should have realized how large the crowd already was when we saw Kirk Van Gundy, of Fort Dodge, pushed outside the terminal to give out American flags, a gift from Martin’s Flag Co. To see hundreds of those flags waving in welcome took my breath away.

Betty Koenig waited for her husband, Eugene, a Navy veteran. Their son-in-law, Mitch Sells, made sure he got to the airport early that morning.

Some well-wishers had no specific person to welcome home. Colleen Holcombe, of Fort Dodge, and Debbie Rossmanith, of Callender, stood hours in a cool breeze just to be part of the celebration.

“It’s awesome to see this,” Rossmanith said. “My son’s in the Marines, so it means a lot to me.”

Dressed in full regalia, members of the Knights of Columbus groups from Fort Dodge and Algona were on hand to form a welcome line for returning veterans.

“We thought we’d come out and do our part,” said Duane Reinsch, of Webster City, commander of the Fort Dodge Assembly color guard.

Tom McCleish, of Bancroft, commander of the Algona Assembly, was also part of the group. And for the first time, the crowd fell in step beside the KC color guard, forming a long walkway for the veterans from the plane to the terminal.

In that walkway, Kang Yunsik, a Korean, waved flags while yelling “America, America.”

The back of Rossmanith’s shirt carried the thoughts of that huge crowd: “Thank God for the American soldier.”

There’s not a lot left to say after that.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at