My husband, Rich Hall, was fortunate to be selected to accompany his father, Dick Hall, on the final Southwest Minnesota WWII Honor Flight earlier this month. Dick is a veteran of three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. This was a very emotional journey for both of them.
There is one more connection to Emmetsburg: Rich and his father met and became friends with WWII Veteran Joe Carpenter, uncle of Dave and Jim Carpenter and Colleen Heldt from Emmetsburg. Rich's experiences are shared below. --Lori Hall
In the fall of 1969 after my Father finished his enlistment in the Marine Corps our family embarked on the journey from Beaufort, SC back to Dunnell, MN. On the way we stopped in Washington, D.C. and visited many of the historic sights and memorials. Of course, the Iwo Jima Memorial was one of the destinations we visited. Forty-two years later through the generous efforts of the people involved with the Southwest Minnesota WWII Veterans Honor Flight, Dad and I made a return trip to D.C. I have to admit I was looking forward most to revisiting the Iwo Jima memorial where Dad and I would once again have our picture taken. While this was a very special moment for us I was not prepared for how much this trip would end up meaning to me.
Although the planned "heroes' welcomes" with the volunteer members of the Honor Flight organization, the Patriot Riders, and other community organizations were wonderful, they were not nearly as moving as the random acts of gratitude I witnessed. There was not one location we visited that these honorable men and women did not receive some sort of recognition. After watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an off duty Honor Guard heard there was an Honor Flight group on the premises and asked to speak to them. This young man, a member of an elite class of Army soldiers, was truly humbled in the presence our WWII vets. He spoke for 15 to 20 minutes noting similarities and differences between today's military and that of the military our vets served in. He ended by asking if he could thank each of them individually and then did just that shaking the hands of every member of our group that was in attendance.
The most surprising experience occurred at the Air Force Memorial on the second day of the trip. As the departure time for the next memorial was drawing near most of our vets had already boarded the buses. As I waited by our bus a small group of teenagers approached one of the remaining members of our group and thanked him for serving. They spent about 10 minutes with him asking about his family, his home, and having their pictures taken with him. Then--with no prompting from anyone--they boarded each of our buses and offered thanks to the rest of the veterans.
For me the most moving moment actually came toward the end of our trip at the Baltimore airport. As an Honor Flight "guardian" I had responsibilities not only to offer assistance to the veterans in our group but also to unload and load equipment. Dad and I had developed a pretty good system to handle this. Generally I would deboard the bus with the other guardians to unload wheel chairs and walkers. When Dad would come off the bus I would get him in a chair and position him where he could watch all the action until I was done. At the airport we once again started this routine with me wheeling Dad into the airport lobby. After I had completed my duties I entered the lobby to see a line of soldiers preparing to enter the terminal. They were headed first to Germany and then to Afghanistan. When I started to head Dad's way I saw one of these young men step out of line to talk to Dad. I stayed at a distance and let them finish their conversation. After he returned to his line I introduced myself and thanked him for taking the time to speak with Dad. He smiled and expressed that it was an honor. I thanked him for protecting our freedom and told him to stay safe. As we got in line for our TSA screening, Dad looked up at me and told me to remember that young man in my prayers.
Growing up a "military brat" I have always had an appreciation for our service men and women. Until the first weekend in October 2011 I didn't realize how much a simple thank-you could mean.