WOTN help WWII vets see well deserved memorial
By 2nd Lt. Anastasia Wasem and Airman 1st Class Rachel Martinez, 319th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 29, 2009
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Fifty Grand Forks Air Force Base Airmen volunteered to help out with the Northern Valley Honor Flight Sept. 25 at Red River High School in Grand Forks, N.D.
More than 100 World War II veterans arrived at the school with family and friends, for the second Northern Valley Honor Flight this year.
This flight, which took WWII veterans, volunteers and medical staff to see the WWII memorial, as well as the Korean and Vietnam memorials and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., had 102 veterans on it, comprised of 97 males and five females.
"The Northern Valley Honor Flight is a way to thank the [WWII] veterans for their service because they didn't get the welcome home and thank you or the appreciation we show our current troops," said Barb Zavala, Honor Flight coordinator.
Honor Flight is a national movement started in 2004 after the completion of the WWII memorial. The goal of the flights is to give as many veterans as possible from around the United States a chance to see their memorial.
The veterans were escorted into the high school by Airmen from Grand Forks AFB. The Airmen helped the veterans with their luggage and made sure they were checked in.
As the veterans checked in they received a special gift: personalized dog tags to commemorate their time of service. Around the room, the veterans beamed with pride as they slide the dog tags around their necks, as if they were on active duty.
Once every veteran had checked in, the war heroes of the past and the present spent time getting to know each other and listening to each other's stories.
Vivian Gary of Fargo, N.D., was an Army nurse in the European theater during WWII. This was the first time she is going to see seen the nurse's memorial. Before leaving she told a Grand Forks AFB Airman that it is the one memorial she is looking forward to the most.
While veterans told their stories, others expressed gratitude and excitement for the flight.
Charles Hoenke of Grafton, N.D., served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He mentioned that this trip would be his first to the east coast of the United States.
"I'm really, really excited and happy," said Mr. Hoenke about the trip before leaving.
As the veterans boarded buses from the high school and made their way to the airport they received a police and Minnesota and North Dakota Patriot Guard escort.
Once in D.C., the veterans were greeted at the WWII memorial by former Sen. Bob Dole and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. And Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota surprised the veterans by attending a banquet held in their honor Sept. 25. Senator Conrad also brought with him a letter of greeting and appreciation from President Obama. This group of veterans is the only group to have received such a letter.
The morning of Sept. 26 was spent walking the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. While on the grounds, the veterans stopped at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and the five woman veterans received certificates of appreciations.
The veterans also toured the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Air and Space Museum and spoke with a current walking guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"The trip went great," said Ms. Zavala. "The veterans told me that everywhere they went it seemed like there was another surprise."
As the veterans returned on the evening of Sept. 26, they were greeted with cheers, banners, signs and a few tears as they made their way through the airport.
The youngest member of the flight was 80-years-old and the oldest was 93-years-old.
"These veterans are as lively as ever," said Ms. Zavala. "The 93-year-old told me that he bet he was more active than anyone on the plane, and I think he was right."