WASHINGTON, D.C. - For more than 130 Korean War veterans from western Iowa, last Wednesday’s Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., rekindled some old, but not forgotten memories and emotions.
The veterans spent the day in our nation’s capital, touring the city and visiting military memorials, most notably the Korean War Memorial, built on their behalf and the more than 33,000 Americans who lost their lives and the 103,000-plus who were injured between 1950-1953 in what’s often been called the “Forgotten War.”
“It is beautiful,” Korean War veteran Dave Barnes of Red Oak said of the memorial. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
The Korean Memorial is widely considered the most unique military memorial in Washington as it features 19 stainless steel statues of an advance party of Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force members making their way through juniper bushes – symbolic of the rice paddies of Korea. The men depicted in the statues are wearing ponchos as a reminder of the often wet and cold conditions the troops endured during the war.
Most Korean War veterans are in their late 70s or early-mid 80s and many on the Western Iowa Honor Flight were seeing the military memorials for the first time.
“It’s beautiful,” Korea veteran Robert Goodwin of Glenwood said. “I’ve been to Washington, D.C., but that was before they built the Korean and World War II memorials.”
Fellow Korea veteran Ed Whitcomb of Glenwood was also impressed by the memorial.
“It’s the only one like this,” Whitcomb said. “It’s very nice.”
In addition to the Korean War Memorial, the Honor Flight participants also spent time at the Vietnam, World War II and Iwo Jima Memorials. At Arlington National Cemetery, they witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“I’m really impressed by everything,” Barnes said. “The Korean and Iwo Jima memorials, I think, are the best.”
The Korean War Honor Flight was the first for western Iowa, organized as a result of the popularity of World War II Honor Flights that took place in 2008-2009. Private donations funded the Honor Flight, which included a dinner in Omaha for veterans and spouses the night before the event. The whirlwind visit to D.C. began with breakfast at 2:30 a.m., followed by a 6 a.m. chartered flight from Omaha to Washington, D.C., a full day of sightseeing in Washington and a return flight from Dulles Airport at 8:30 p.m. It was close to midnight by the time the memorable day had ended.
Meals were provided throughout the trip and Honor Flight guardians were available for any veterans in need of assistance.
“I was never treated so nice in my life,” Korea veteran Theron Michaelsen of Malvern said.
Fellow veterans Ernie Spiker of Malvern and Henry Elliott of Red Oak echoed Michaelsen’s thoughts.
“This is the most wonderful honor I’ve ever had,” Spiker said. “It’s just fantastic.”
Elliott said, “It means a lot to all of us.”
Organizer Jeff Ballenger said showing appreciation to the veterans who put on a uniform to fight for their country is what the Honor Flight program is all about.