AMBOY — On Thursday, May 30, the day started very early for many area military veterans. This would be the day that they would board a plane for Washington, D.C., on the 48thHonor Flight from the Quad Cities.
Local veterans started gathering shortly after 3 a.m. at the VFW in Dixon excited about what the next 24 hours would bring. They boarded two chartered buses which pulled out sharply at 4 a.m. headed to the Quad Cities Airport.
At the airport, these vets met up with other area vets joining them for the trip. A total of 103 veterans, 99 Vietnam War veterans and 4 Korean War veterans, along with 62 guardians and several Honor Flight Committee members embarked on the 48th Honor Flight from the Quad Cities Airport. The Honor Flight of the Quad Cities and the Lee County Honor Flight Committee has sent over 4,500 veterans to Washington D.C. over the past 10 years, over 400 vets from the Lee County area alone. The Honor Flight is totally free to all veterans.
Local veterans participating on this honor flight were: Terry Halsey, James Hansen, John Hemminger, Mike Koppien and Paul Lahman, from Amboy; Doug Schammel and Robert Weber, from Sublette; Stephen Albrecht, from Harmon; Bill Spratt, from Eldena; Richard Griffin, from Ashton; Dean Gendusa, from Franklin Grove; and Jim Wade and Rich Weber, from Mendota.
Upon arriving at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., the vets and their guardians were welcomed by adults and school children as they made their way through the airport to the three busses waiting to transport them on the first leg of their tour.
The first stop was to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Center. After an hour-long tour of the Center, it was time to board the buses again. The next stop was the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial. At this point on the journey, the buses picked up a police escort. Next up—the Lincoln Memorial. At the Lincoln Memorial all of the veterans gathered for a group photograph, a prayer and a brief talk. Vets and their guardians then moved about the Mall visiting the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. Many vets spent additional time at the Vietnam Wall looking up their fallen comrades with which they had served. After about 90 minutes everyone boarded the buses and traveled to the World War II Memorial. Then they were off to Arlington National Cemetery with our police escort. Everyone enjoyed watching the police allow the buses to travel through the streets of Washington D.C. without any stops for traffic lights or traffic congestion. It really made them feel special.
The next stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The veterans gathered to view the solemn changing of the guard. At the conclusion, an off-duty tomb guard came out to talk with the group. He discussed with the group his training and daily routine. The veterans were then driven by the Pentagon and a final stop to view the Air Force Memorial, the newest of the memorials that they visited.
It was then time to return to Dulles Airport for the return flight to the Quad Cities. During the flight home the veterans were treated to Mail Call. The three bus captains from the Honor Flight Committee, Tom Bushman, Brian Thoms, and Jim Travi, passed out packets of letters to each veteran on the flight from family members, friends, and school children from Amboy, Franklin Center and other area schools. The plane got very quiet as each veteran opened their mail and read their personal letters. This was a very emotional and tearful part of the trip.
Upon landing in Moline, the veterans were overwhelmed by a welcome home party of more than 500 family members and friends. Among the comments heard from the vets as they departed the airport included: “This was one of the greatest days of my life,” “I will never forget this experience,” and for many it was the long awaited Welcome Home that they had never received.
If you were a military veteran or know one that served during World War II, Korean War, or the Vietnam War and would like to go on a Honor Flight in the future, contact an area Honor Flight committee member or pick up an application at the Dixon VFW. Honor Flight committee members in the Amboy, Ashton, Sublette area are Mike Their, Roger Wittenauer, and Jim Travi.