One more hurrah
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ninety-nine humble men, veterans of two wars, were treated to a day of near hero worship Saturday during the seventh Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight to the nation’s capital.
Of the 99, 15 were World War II veterans and the balance served during the Korean War.
They were received at every stop by members of the Honor Flight Network and by tourists at the memorials. They were cheered and hugged and their hands clasped in friendship; and they were thanked.
Each testified they did nothing special to contribute to the effort of their wars, the majority serving in support roles, away from front line combat. So they were humbled by the receptions and good wishes they confronted.
A few chose to accept the accolades as proxies for those who lost their lives.
Richard Black, of Farnhamville, was trained as an Army communication specialist, during the Korean war. Though he thought the hugs he received through the airport terminal were undeserved, he enjoyed them all the same.
A tourist shook his hand at the Korean War Memorial. “Thank you for your service,” she said.
He quietly acknowledged her. After she turned away, he said, “I didn’t do anything.” He served his Army tour in Europe because there was a Cold War on at the same time.
Out of 250 men in his training school, only Black and one other, were assigned to Europe.
“I was lucky,” he said.
“I’ve never shaken so many hands in my life,” said Dean Williams, of Fort Dodge, another Korean War vet.
At Dulles International Airport, the honorees boarded three buses with a motorcycle escort to downtown Washington by members of three Virginia-based American Legion posts.
Warren Clark, of Lake City, an Army signals corpsman in Korea, said the 19 stainless-steel, poncho-clad figures at the Korean War Memorial brought back memories.
“I saw a lot of guys dressed that,” Clark said, “especially during the rainy season.”
He and his guardian escort, James Crotty, were looking over the Vietnam Nurses Memorial.
“This is very interesting,” Clark said of the entire day. “It’s a great chance to see all these.”
At the World War II Memorial, which was dedicated in 2004, a pair of Korean vets – L.D. Runneberg, of Laurens, and Dwayne Netsch, of Spirit Lake – looked out over the World War II memorial.
Through the day, Runneberg said he felt peoples’ genuine appreciation “for what we went through. It means a lot. It makes you appreciate your country more.
“Even the tourists shake your hand. I can’t believe it.”
Jerry Rowe, of Fort Dodge, said being at the memorials was for remembering.
The Korean veteran said that in his day “you just went into the service. You did your job, and you came home and forgot about it.”
On Saturday he was “remembering those who sacrificed their lives. To honor their service.”
When the fighting was stopped in Korea, Rowe said he worked at a hospital treating released prisoners of war.
“What a pitiful sight,” he said shaking his head. “I was a medic and helped clean up after air crashes.
“It took me 40 years to get on an airplane.”
His nephew and guardian escort, Larry Schuster, of Fort Dodge, agreed that the day’s events were, “to show them respect.
“They deserve to be honored for what they’ve done.
Also in a reflective mood was veteran Richard Sennert, of Storm Lake. Sitting in his wheelchair, unable to make the final climb to Lincoln Memorial, he stared up where someone was getting photos for him.
“I was here 70 years ago,” Sennert said. “A lot has happened in our country since then.”
World War II veterans posed for photos in front of the 4,000 gold stars at the World War II Memorial, each star representing 100 Americans who died in both theaters of operation.
One of them, Brendon Bird, of Fort Dodge, served on a Navy fueling tanker in the Pacific and said he was glad a friend talked him into taking the Honor Flight.
“I didn’t want to,” Bird said. “But glad I did. I like the atmosphere.”
When asked for his thoughts, George Turnquist said he was overwhelmed by the whole experience.
“I can’t find the words,” he said.
Earl Barmore, of Humboldt, served as a Navy air machinist’s mate. He said he too was overwhelmed by the reception at the airport.
“I served 40 months,” he said, “but I never went overseas.” He was trained to repair damaged planes and got them back into the fight.
The day’s touring ended at Arlington National Cemetery to watch “retreat,” retiring the American flag as sunset approached, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
A group photo in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial, was followed by a brief explanation of how the iconic image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima is symbolic of Marines’ call to duty and accomplishing their missions.
Perhaps Korean War veteran Charles Thatcher, of Bode, summed up the broad-based emotions of the honorees that day.
“I’m no hero,” he said. “I served during wartime, I have the benefits, but I didn’t contribute.”
Like Black, he was stationed in Europe, watching the Russians, as the Russians watched the U.S.
“But it was a good day,” Thatcher said.
The veterans received a mail call on the plane ride home. Organizers had arranged for each veteran to get a letter from a family member to be read privately on the plane to Fort Dodge.
Ron Newsum, Honor Flight organizer, encouraged the veterans to share their memories and experiences of their service years with their families.
“With each veteran’s death,” Newsum said, “a whole library of experiences is lost.
“They don’t teach these things at school. I hope (youths) get to learn what you veterans have gone through.”
They were greeted that evening by martial music, an honor guard and cheers from several hundred family members and friends at the Fort Dodge Municipal Airport as if they were freshly arriving home from their tours of service.