Trip of a lifetime

WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the veterans who took part in the eighth Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Saturday, the full-day excursion to Washington, D.C.was more than just a trip; it was a memory they won’t soon forget.

More than 100 veterans, guardians, organizers and medical staff boarded a 737 at Fort Dodge Regional Airport early Saturday morning and spent 10 hours visiting different memorials and landmarks throughout the District of Columbia.

Upon arriving at Dulles International Airport, the veterans were greeted by a crowd of cheering people thanking them for their service.

Gerald Claude, an Army veteran from Alden, was surprised by the response.

“I didn’t think they would have this many people here today,” he said. “I think it’s great.”

Robert Meseck, of Storm Lake, who served in Korea in the Marine Corps, admitted he teared up when he saw everyone greeting him.

“I didn’t realize that there was going to be a reception line filled with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” he said. “We wouldn’t have seen anything like that 60 years ago. This treatment was amazing.”

James Borwey, of Urbandale, who served as a guardian to his World War II Navy veteran father, John Borwey, of Fort Dodge, said it was “absolutely incredible.”

“It took us a half hour to get through the gate,” he said. “Nothing prepared me for that greeting.”

Some veterans, including Bill Wessendorf, were surprised by family members when they arrived. His daughter, Alicia Bahlke, flew in from California to meet him at the airport.

“I didn’t realize she was coming,” Wessendorf said. “It was a big surprise.”

From the airport, the veterans took a bus to downtown D.C., where they visited the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Korean War Veterans’ Memorial.

Most of the veterans on Saturday’s flight served in Korea, and several of them, being at the memorial brought back memories.

“I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” Carroll Monsen, of Estherville, said. “That first night I spent in a foxhole.”

Navy Veteran Leonard Carstensen, of Odebolt, said the memorial was very realistic.

“It’s a little bit emotional,” he said.

Army Veteran James Scott Jr. agreed.

“It brings back memories,” he said. “I got a chill down my neck.”

Army Veteran Jerry Volkert said he was “in awe” when looking at the Korean memorial wall.

“It’s unbelievable how someone could draw that image by sandblaster,” he said.

Veterans also visited the World War II memorial, where a photo of all the participating World War II veterans was taken.

Orval Herman, of Moorland, served in the Navy during WWII.

“I’m very impressed,” he said. “It really makes you appreciate what all the veterans have gone through.”

John Alexa, an Army veteran from Sac City who served in Korea from 1952 until the war ended in 1953, spent a few minutes reflecting at the WWII memorial.

“I’ve seen a lot of memorials,” he said. “It really touches my heart. There’s a lot of wonderful people here.”

Alexa added he was very happy with how the Honor Flight went.

Navy Veteran Bill Storey, of Fort Dodge, also expressed gratitude for everyone who planned the flight.

“It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how to express it,” Storey said. “People are beautiful.”

The veterans were also taken to Arlington National Cemetery, where they witnessed both the lowering of the flag and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After a quick stop at the Air Force Memorial, the veterans arrived at the Marine Corps War Memorial, where a group photo was taken.

The veterans also heard from Second Lt. Matt Rojo, a member of the United States Marine Corps.

“This statue stands for all of us,” Rojo said, referring to the memorial. “You fought evil so that our children could grow up breathing free air.”

“If it wasn’t for your courage and guts, it’s likely the landscape of America would be completely different today,” he added.

He also thanked the veterans for all their work defending the nation.

“Thank you, and Semper Fidelis,” Rojo said.

On the plane ride back, veterans each received a challenge coin and a certificate signifying their completion of the Honor Flight.

Veterans also had mail call and received letters from friends and family.

Upon their return to Fort Dodge Regional Airport, a crowd of friends, family and well-wishers gathered to welcome the veterans home.

Each veteran also had their name and branch of military service announced one-by-one as they left the airplane.