Honor Flight was grand experience
My father, Harry Ward, was a World War II veteran. He was an ordinary guy - not an officer, not specially trained, really just an average sort of guy who went to war because he loved his country and his country needed him.
He was a GI, a grunt, a foot soldier, a dog face. He was Willie or Joe by World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin. He could even have been Kilroy, for he was there. He was a soldier.
The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization honoring America's veterans for their service and sacrifice by providing a trip to Washington, D.C., free of charge to veterans. They visit monuments and memorials and receive thanks and recognition. It is an umbrella organization at the national level, and the local chapters find the funding, make the arrangements and fill the airplanes. In our area, there are five chapters or hubs: Rochester, Roseville and St. Cloud Minn., and Grand Forks and Bismarck N.D.
The Honor Flight Network currently focuses on the most senior of veterans. World War II era veterans are now said to be dying at a rate of more than 1000 per day. Honor Flight Network is in a race to bring them the recognition they deserve - and soon.
My mom's brother, Budd Henderscheid, of Fort Clark, N.D., served with the Marines in the Pacific. Born in 1924, he is among the younger veterans of World War II. More than a year ago, he asked me to accompany him on the Rough Rider Honor Flight from Bismarck, but the April 2009 flight was full, and he was too ill for the fall flight.
Third time's a charm; he and I had the pleasure, the privilege, the honor, of traveling with a plane load of World War II vets and their escorts April 16 and 17.
We gathered early on April 16. With many Honor Flight committee members helping move and organize people, and with an uniformed Honor Guard in attendance, we went through check-in, security and onto a charter airplane. There were 162 vets, escorts and Honor Flight personnel who departed Bismarck on time for a direct, non-stop flight to Washington, D.C. In our two days there, we visited the major monuments and memorials, plus Arlington National Cemetery and the tomb of the unknowns. We were put up in the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va., and the vets were toasted at a banquet. It was a sweet time, a poignant time.
On the return we were met by hundreds of friends, relatives and just plain people plus Honor Guard, the Patriot Band, TV news and the governor. It was a grand party, a rejoicing!
Now, after the trip I'm left with some thoughts:
I wish my dad could have gone, but he died 14 years ago. He came back from Italy a one-legged veteran and quietly went about the next 52 years of his life without complaint. He'd have loved the trip.
The World War II monument was a high point, not just because of its beauty, but because of the people.
While I was there with Budd, dozens of people came up to shake his hand and to thank him for his service - civilians, active duty service personnel, retirees, children, Americans, non-Americans. It was the recognition he deserved, as did all the vets.
And I heard this thought voiced by many vets, more than once: "I was there doing my job, but there were some real heroes there."
Thanks, Budd. Thanks, dad. And thanks to all veterans.