The veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of Honor Flight 10 were left in stunned shock at the reception they were given after returning home Sunday.
“We had several things that I’m in awe over,” said Richard McKay, a career Navy veteran. “It was choreographed so well you could hardly tell when one county sheriff picked us up and the other dropped us off,” he continued, discussing the police escort the caravan received from Chadron to Denver.
All of the veterans were wowed by the police escort, but even more touching for many of them were the school children in Kimball who sang them several patriotic songs and the students of a country school north of Fort Morgan who waved flags as they drove by. Large flags waving over the highway as they passed underneath and an aerial show by two crop dusting planes as they neared Fort Morgan were also mentioned frequently.
While all of that was special in and of itself for McKay, the trip offered him closure that he’s gone far too long without.
“As we got there I was tearful. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that,” he said. “I needed that for my own closure.”
Still emotional Monday, he recalled that Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home kindly, even though they had no choice in where they were sent.
“We took an oath of service,” McKay said. “Most people don’t understand that aspect of it.”
As each branch of the service was recognized by conflict during the trip, hearing the Vietnam veterans welcomed home was deeply moving.
“That was the final joy, the final feeling that I was truly welcomed home,” said McKay, who also was inspired by the World War II museum, where he visited the Wisconsin pillar in honor of his father.
“If there is a veteran out there who hasn’t been (on an Honor Flight) find out where you can sign up and go,” he urged.
A fellow Navyman, Terry Murdoff couldn’t agree more.
“It was awesome. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was fantastic, awesome, impressive. It was amazing,” he said.
From the farewell send-off in Chadron to hearing Kimball’s kindergarten through third grade sing patriotic songs to the smokescreen laid down for the veteran caravan by those two crop dusters, the reception throughout the entire trip couldn’t have been better. The grateful attitude continued in D.C., where Murdoff was greeted at the World War II memorial by about 40 Kentucky students, each of whom thanked him and shook his hand.
“I never dreamt it would be that great. Everything was a high point,” he said.
David Iverason of Chadron was similarly impressed with the greetings the group received.
“There were people standing along the streets here, and anywhere we went there were people clapping and waving,” he remarked.
Russell “Pete” Kendle, a former Marine, knows he’ll probably never see the memorials again, but he made enough memories over the weekend to last a lifetime. He like every other veteran on the trip is profoundly grateful to the sponsors, organizers and volunteers who make the Honor Flights possible for veterans like him.
“It’s really something to see,” agreed James Kearns, who served in the Army. They gave us an awfully good tour.”
While he enjoyed visiting all of the memorials, he was particularly pleased with the hour the group spent watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
The spray planes’ aerial show was impressive, and the mail call, which delivered a package of letters to each veteran, “reminds you of when you were in (the service),” Kearns said.
Ben and Pam Rivera, both veterans of Crawford, enjoyed seeing the faces of the World War II vets on the trip with them as they visited that memorial, but noted that the entire trip was well coordinated and included plenty of surprises – the aerial show being one of them.
“It was just a fantastic view,” Ben Rivera said.
“World War II was the only one we won, and the country was united behind that,” remarked Bill Piercy of Chadron. “During the Korean and Vietnam (conflicts) there was a lot of turmoil here because of that.”
Those moods seem to be reflected in the memorials to the three conflicts, as he found the WWII memorial to be more light and airy than the Vietnam Wall and the Korean Memorial.
“It was very moving and very nice,” Piercy said of the trip.
Former Army serviceman Richard Lee also enjoyed the trip, noting that the Vietnam Wall, Arlington National Cemetery and Iwo Jima were among his favorite stops.
“I think it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my whole entire life,” Lee said.
Roland Moliter, who served in both the Marines and the Army, wished the World War II memorial could have been finished while more veterans of that conflict were still alive to see it, calling it an enormous project that was “long overdue.” Regardless, he was pleased to share the experience with other veterans and took something away from each stop in D.C., and like the rest of his group was awed by the reception during the journey.
“It was great. It was a wonderful trip,” concurred Patrick Shald. “I’d go again if they’d let me!”
Also on the trip was John Krotz of Rushville, who did not return a call by press time.