Veterans head to WashingtonWASHINGTON — They rose before the sun did, making their way to the Bismarck airport with their bags and their memories.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
WASHINGTON — They rose before the sun did, making their way to the Bismarck airport with their bags and their memories. Some were escorted with family and friends, some traveled alone, but all were ready to go.
Nearly 100 area World War II veter-ans are participating in the inaugural Roughrider Honor Flight this weekend, with the goal of seeing the memorial built in their honor.
Beginning before dawn Friday, area veterans began streaming into the airport, getting their tickets and receiving an honorary honor flight jacket.
Excited chatter filled the terminal, some reuniting with old friends, and others meeting new ones, as veterans from all walks of life and all military branches began reliving their WWII days.
But the veterans were not alone.
Congressman Earl Pomeroy as well as area military officials, Boy Scouts and volunteers stopped to shake a hand and offer thanks to what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation” by former news anchor Tom Brokaw.
“Just walking among these people, some with Purple Hearts and Bronze Medals, who have seen and done things that are unimaginable, it would be wrong of me not to come and send them off,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Martin, a Bismarck resident who spent time before the flight speaking with the veterans. “They are so humble, too.”
After a send-off speech from Gov. John Hoeven and special send off by military personnel, the three-hour flight began, which featured veterans getting up and telling their stories on the intercom for all to hear.
Meals, hotel rooms, snacks, airfare and transportation costs are paid for, leaving no cost to the veterans.
“They (the Roughrider workers) have just all been so great and kind,” said Joey Schulte, daughter of Stan Wright, an Army veteran from Stanley. “They’ve really taken care of everything.”
Following the flight Friday, which was brought in by fire trucks and police cars in honor of the veterans, the group was taken to the Lincoln Memorial site, which encompasses both the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.
Wright, who towed his trombone, purchased in 1946, on the plane, offered his services playing “Taps” during a banquet Friday.
Wright played in the military band while in Korea and still plays, featuring his talents at dances and at the senior center in Stanley.
Today, veterans will be visiting the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Arlington National Cemetery in addition to visiting the WWII Memorial.
Many were excited to see the WWII Memorial.
“That’s what we came down here for,” said Harry (Buddy) Renschler, an Army veteran from Bismarck. “It’s too bad not many of our friends are around to see it — 96,000 North Dakotans participated in WWII, and 1,000 die every month.”
Vernon Albright, an Air Force vet-eran from Willow City said he’s the only one left alive from the group he served with in WWII.
“In our group (the American Legion), there were five who weren’t in good enough health to go. I feel pretty fortunate I was able to go and see it,” he said.
— See Sunday’s Dickinson Press for more photos and stories from the trip.