WYANET — It was the end of the trip that was the highlight for Ralph Anderson.
“And finally we got to the reception line, and all these people — active soldiers, guys with their fatigues on — two rows from the end of the terminal to the other, and they came right up to you, and they hugged you,” he said. “It made you feel worthy.”
Anderson and fellow Korean War veteran Verden Baumgartner were two of the participants on the most recent Honor Flight, which transported almost 100 Korean and World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to tour the military monuments.
It was the 20th flight for Honor Flight Quad Cities, which is part of a nationwide organization dedicated to flying as many aging veterans as possible to Washington, D.C., all at no cost to the veteran. The Honor Flight QC project started back in 2008. This was the first flight that included Korean War veterans.
On Sept. 19, the veterans were honored with a dinner at the Hy-Vee Banquet Hall in Davenport. After spending the night in a motel in Moline, they headed for the Quad Cities Airport early in the morning.
Anderson said the veterans were greeted with an overwhelming reception at the airport, the first of three receptions.
Each veteran or pair of veterans was assigned a guardian. For Anderson and Baumgartner, their guardians were Ralph and Leah Garrison of Port Byron. They, and many of the other guardians, were members of Gold Star families. The Garrison’s son, Landis, a National Guard military police officer, had died in 2004 in Iraq.
The next big reception came at the airport in Washington, D.C.
“Oh my gosh, the people were all lined up, and women would give us hugs and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Baumgartner said. “It’s really touching. You just want to sit down and cry.”
Both men said the receptions were different than what they received when they returned from the war.
“Nobody said thank you for serving”, Baumgartner said. “You’d come home and somebody would say, ‘Oh you’ve been gone; haven’t seen you around.’”
The veterans got a up-close look at all the monuments and the Pentagon and saw the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery.
On the trip home, there was still more to come.
“The tender part, to finish it off, was around the Chicago area, coming back,” Anderson said. “They came back through the aisles there, and they had manila envelopes.”
Anderson paused to wipe his eyes, and Baumgartner took up the story.
“They said, what did you guys always want to see when you were overseas?” Baumgartner said. “It was getting the mail. You’re always looking for news from home.”
The envelopes were full of letters from relatives and general letters from high school and grade school students thanking the veterans for their service.
“I could see old Verden over there just really melting down,” Anderson said.
Back in Moline, Baumgartner was also touched by the final reception at the airport.
“It made you feel like somebody,” he said.
Both men are eager to encourage other veterans to sign up. Currently there are 800 Korean veterans signed up for the five trips that are planned for 2013.
“Everybody told me, ‘Go, it’s quite a thing,’ and I’ll tell you, now I want to make sure the guys go because I tell you, it’s such a wonderful thing,” Baumgartner said.
Anderson said the trip is worthwhile even for veterans who have been to Washington, D.C., and he’s been trying to persuade his friend, Bob Oloffson.
“I said, ‘Bob, you were over there’. And he said, ‘Well, I’ve seen the monuments,’” Anderson said. “Well, I had too, but this is not something that you’ll ever forget.”
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