April 23 was unlike any day I’ve experienced before. It is a day that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
I, along with 67 others, accompanied veterans on the first Eastern Iowa Honor Flight of 2013. The Eastern Iowa Honor Flight is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that sends local veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit various historical sites and war memorials.
I accompanied my dad, Glenn Klinsky, 86, and a resident of Marion since 2011, on this trip of a lifetime. While most guardians were family members or special friends, not all guardians knew the veterans they traveled with before that day.
During the day, the group of 162 veterans, guardians and volunteer staff shared plenty of walking, stories, laughter and more than a few tears. My eyes still well up as I think back more than a week later.
Flags of Our Heroes
In addition to my father, who is a World War II veteran, his brother-in-law Donald Kadlec, 83, of Cedar Rapids, who is a Korean War veteran, went on the trip with his son, Keith.
The photo of a third brother-in-law, the late Edmund “Sunk” Jones of Ely accompanied us. A Korean War veteran who spent seven months of his two-year tour of duty in a tank unit on the front line, Jones died before he could go on an Honor Flight.
He was part of the trip, though, through the “Flags of Our Heroes” program, which honors the memory of veterans who never make it on an Honor Flight. On this trip, they paid tribute to eight deceased veterans, four from World War II and four from the Korean War.
“This is the first time we had two veterans who are family members on the flight to render honors,” says George Rickey, media relations chairman and a volunteer for the flight.
My cousin from North Carolina joined us at the Korean War Veterans Memorial to watch as my dad and uncle saluted in his father’s memory.
A family affair
If this trip is any indication, it’s typical for families to make the Honor Flight special for loved ones by meeting the group in D.C.
The trip was a surprise for Ernest Corson of Decorah, who will turn 98 years old on May 29. A son and daughter-in-law flew in from Des Moines, and three others from Philadelphia joined him in D.C. as a surprise.
Another reunion involved Keystone resident, Russell Knipp, a Korean War era veteran who served in Germany from 1953 to 1956. His daughter, Shari Teneyck of Belle Plaine, accompanied him as guardian. It was their first trip to the nation’s capital.
At the National World War II Memorial, Teneyck’s son, Army Spc. Dylan Ehlen joined our group for the day. Currently based at Fort Myer, Va., Ehlen previously had his grandfather present his Infantry Blue Cord to him during graduation ceremonies at Fort Benning, Ga.
“This was a way for me to honor my grandfather and fellow veterans,” the uniformed Ehlen says. “I think that no matter what military branch you serve in, there is a special bond between servicemen — and the generation doesn’t make a difference.”
A lifelong friend
Another first-time guardian was Wendy Loughren of Cedar Rapids. She volunteers for the honor flight and serves as the guardian coordinator. Loughren accompanied Korean War veteran Kenneth Lawrence of Belle Plaine.
“Kenny will definitely be a lifelong friend,” Loughren says. “To have his family place their trust in me to take care of him is touching. I can’t put into words what it meant to me to take him.”
I echo her sentiments.
There also is no way I can describe the tsunami of emotions that swept over me when we slowly made our way through the winding path of hundreds of enthusiastic greeters at The Eastern Iowa Airport when we returned late on April 23.
A band was playing. Flags were waving. Family members brought welcome home signs. School children were yelling U.S.A., U.S.A.!
Even my typically composed dad broke into tears.
Through the eyes of this guardian, Eastern Iowa Honor Flight is amazing.
Shirley Mott grew up near Ely, graduated from Mount Vernon High School and Iowa State University. She is now a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant in Batavia, Ill.