The fifth Honor Flight flew out of the Waterloo Regional Airport on September 18th, carrying 53 World War II veterans, 39 Korean War veterans, and almost 70 guardians, including three nurses and a doctor in case of emergency and Waterloo firemen to help load and unload wheelchairs for the veterans. This was the first Honor Flight to include the Korean War veterans.
Thanks to the volunteerism and donations of those who believe in the mission of the organization, the veterans were able to fly to Washington, D.C., at no charge, to view the memorials, including the memorials dedicated to their honor, services, and sacrifice.
The Honor Flight Network has been dedicated to providing the experience to as many World War II veterans as possible. It is estimated that 900 World War II veterans pass away each day and so these heroes, as well as any veteran with a terminal illness, are given the first opportunity for this experience.
Above, area veterans pose in front of the Iwo Jima statue in Washington, D.C. Below left, Austin and Walter Brandt, of Dysart. Walter, Austin’s son, accompanied Austin as his guardian.
The program was originated by a retired Air Force captain, Earl Morse, who had the opportunity to care for many veterans as a physician's assistant. After speaking with numerous veterans, many expressed their desire to see the memorial dedicated to their honor but did not have the means to travel to Washington D.C. And so, the Honor Flight Network was started.
The first Honor Flight occurred in May of 2005 and included six small planes out of Springfield, Ohio. By August of 2005, the waiting list was so long that commercial planes began being used. The program eventually grew nationwide. By the end of 2011, more than 81,000 veterans had been flown to Washington, D.C. at no charge.
Veterans in the Dysart area who went on this Honor Flight include: Howard Pippert, Larry Lorenzen, Marv Monroe, Dean Young, Rich Crawford, Irene Olson, Leland Jones and Austin Brandt. The Peoples Ride Transportation bus was provided to transport the veterans from Dysart to Waterloo. According to Leland Jones, they were the only veterans whose communities provided transportation by bus and they were thankful for those who made them feel honored.
"As the bus got up to the airport, the firemen had their two big ladder trucks and had the biggest American flag flying over the street that you can imagine. The street was lined with flags to the terminal building," said Jones, a Korean War Air Force veteran.
At the airport, the veterans were provided with pastries, fruit and beverages courtesy of Hy-Vee. The veterans then made the trip from Waterloo to Washington, D.C., where they were greeted by a welcoming committee.
The first stop was the World War II Monument, followed by a drive-by tour of the Washington Monument, Capital Building and the White House. They also toured the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam Memorials before departing to the Arlington National Cemetery where they observed the changing of the guard. They made one last stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial before heading back to the airport to return to Waterloo.
For the veterans, it was an experience of a lifetime. Despite rainy weather soaking them, the veterans didn't complain, "and that's unusual for a bunch of older people," stated Jones, with a laugh.
"If you ever get a chance, be sure and go. It's well worth your time and effort. You don't have anything else invested, just your time. It makes you realize how fortunate you are to live where we do and have the opportunity to do things like this. Some places in the world, it wouldn't be possible," said Korean War Veteran Austin Brandt, who served in a Field Artillery Observation Battalion.
"They really had everything down. I've never been to any organization that was better planned out than this trip was. We got real good dress shirts and hats, so they really did it up fine," agreed Jones. The veterans also received Honor Flight dog tags, much like the dog tags they received in the service.
Almost more than anything else, Jones and Brandt appreciated the warm welcome they received when they returned to the Waterloo airport, which was much different than the welcome, or lack thereof, they received when returning from their service so many years ago.
"When we got out of the service, we were sent to California, and you arranged your transportation back home. You'd get back to town and people didn't even know you were back," said Jones.
This in stark contrast to the greeting they received after their Honor Flight. Many of the Dysart firemen greeted the veterans when they arrived in Waterloo and the airport was filled with a welcoming crowd, including many Dysart residents. Both Jones and Brandt expressed their pride in those from Dysart who provided the bus ride transportation and even showed up to greet them when they arrived back home.
"It's a humbling and emotional experience. I wasn't prepared for the emotion going through that welcoming line. I don't think they could have fit any more people in that terminal up there. They had two lines and everybody wanted to shake your hand and there's no way you could shake everybody's hand. I've seen it on television, but it hit me, emotionally, really hard," said Jones.
While in the service, mail call was a much anticipated event. The Honor Flight Network contacted the veterans' families before the flight, asking them to write letters that the veterans would receive when they arrived back in Waterloo. Brandt received letters from each of his seven grandchildren and Jones received letters from his daughter and grandson. Each vet also received drawings and letters from students in the Waterloo and Cedar Falls school systems.
There are six regional hubs in Iowa, where the Honor Flights begin, located in Waterloo, Forest City, Davenport, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and Ft. Dodge. The Honor Flight relies on donations and volunteerism. Donations are needed to help this program continue. Please visit www.honorflight.org for more information.