Trip of a lifetime

Saturday was a long day for several Webster City area veterans. They were part of the Brushy Creek Honor Flight and traveled to Washington, D.C., with other veterans for a day of touring, sight-seeing and remembering.

More than 100 veterans arrived at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport before dawn to board the chartered plane bound for the nation’s capitol. After a hot breakfast at the airport and a warm send off, the men settled in for the two-hour flight.

Dick Tighe, Webster City, recalled that he first learned about the trip from Russ Naden, one of the heads of the regional program.

“Russ called me an told me the flights were up to Korean (War) now and would I like to go,” he said. Tighe, a Korean-era Army veteran, decided he would go. His son, Rich, lives and works in the area and agreed to meet his dad upon arrival.

Blaine Kloppenborg, Webster City, a veteran of the Korean and the Vietnam Wars, said the reception at Dulles Airport was unexpected.

“When I got back from Vietnam, the plane pulled to the end of the runway at Travers Air Force Base and we boarded buses with curtains and wire screens because of the war protesters,” said Kloppenborg.

However, at Dulles Airport, there was a large welcome waiting for the veterans. The participants were greeted by a throng of cheering people. There was a band playing and children were waving flags.

“People were saying thank you and cheering,” Kloppenborg said. “The line of people reached from the plane to out where the buses were parked. Line after line after line.”

“There were lots of hugs and handshakes and people were thanking us for our service,” Tighe said. “Kind of makes you feel like a hero.”

Kloppenborg said about 300 people were standing outside at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport to welcome the travelers home later that night.

“It was only 38 degrees that night,” he said. “They didn’t know us, we didn’t them but they were waiting to wave a flag, shake our hands and say thank you.”

Many of the veterans traveled with a companion. Tighe met up with his son, Rich, who lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area.

His son was waiting for him as he finished greeting the well-wishers. Three tour buses were waiting for the veterans – one red, one white and one blue. Tighe said the tour guides on the buses were great, but it was fun having his son point out other sites along the way to the monuments.

The first stop was near the Lincoln, Korean War and Vietnam Memorials. The group spent about two hours at that location, before moving on to see the World War II monument where a group picture was taken.

“It was wonderful getting to see all of the memorials, the Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery, the tomb of the unknown soldier and the changing of the guard,” Kloppenborg said. “And, of course, the Iwo Jima monument which I was really interested in.”

Tighe said the Korean War Memorial with its life-size soldiers in helmets and ponchos were an impressive and haunting sight.

On the plane home, the veterans answered to “mail call” – something both men said everyone in the military eagerly awaits. Each veteran received a packet of letters, drawings and cards from family members, volunteers and school-age children, thanking them for their service to the country.

“Most everybody spent the plane ride home reading those,” Tighe said.

Both Tighe and Kloppenborg had high praise for those who organized and chaperoned the veterans on the trip.

“From the time we received our applications until the time we returned home Saturday night, everything went just like clockwork,” Kloppenborg said. “They were so great and so good to us.”

The trip marked the first time he had been to the nation’s capitol.

“I travel to Quantico, VA. every year, but this was the first time to Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Both men encouraged other area veterans to make the trip if possible.

“I’m glad I was able to take the trip. I think that any veterans who can should do it,” he said.

“It was really a wonderful thing,” Kloppenborg said. “From the time we arrived until the time we left, about everybody had tears in their eyes.”