A chance to see D.C.WASHINGTON — Nearly 100 area veterans got their chance to see the World War II Memorial Saturday, ending what many called a fantastic trip.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
WASHINGTON — Nearly 100 area veterans got their chance to see the World War II Memorial Saturday, ending what many called a fantastic trip.
On the last day of their two-day visit to Washington, D.C., members of the Roughrider Honor Flight headed to the WWII Memorial early Saturday morning.
The participating veterans left Fri-day from Bismarck, and concluded their trip Saturday.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Joe Schneider, a Navy veteran from Dickinson, said of the memorial built in veterans’ honor. “I think it’s a very fitting tribute and it’s the best one, but I’m partial.”
Schneider, originally from Napoleon, served more than four years during his time in the Navy, including invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
“I really like it,” Fred Fleener, also a Navy veteran from Dickinson, said of the memorial. “I was surprised when I saw it.”
Fleener boarded the USS Montpelier when it was new. He believes he and his crew were the last to man it when they left it in 1945. Fleener owns a piece of the deck, which was presented to him when the ship was decommissioned.
Veterans spent more than an hour touring the site and also visited the North Dakota pillar, which honors all veterans from the state.
During the afternoon, veterans got an opportunity to tour Arlington National Cemetery by trolley and witness the changing of the guard. The Iwo Jima Memorial was the last stop on the trip.
Helen Soma of Bismarck was the only female WWII veteran along and said she was hoping to connect with other females who served, but still enjoyed the visit.
“As a woman it was quite an endeavor for me,” Soma said. “I equate it as a college education. It’s such an honor to be with these men who served.”
Soma helped set up a B-17 air bomber staging base during her time in the military and her duties included ordering food and supplies, correspondence, scheduling and taking care of furlough passes.
“I say I was just a small cog in a big wheel,” Soma said with a smile.
The Department of Veterans Affairs honored her for being one of few surviving women who served.
Throughout the trip, bystanders saw the group of veterans and would stick out their hands, wave, hug them and clap for them, thanking them for their service.
“The spontaneous expressions of appreciation from normal people from California, Florida and Italy, it was kind of like going to Graceland and having Elvis show up,” said Kevin Cramer, Roughrider Honor Flight committee co-chair. “To me, that’s the embodiment of what the honor flight is.”
Members of the flight made their way home Saturday evening and were greeted by a mass of military men and women, their friends and families and a military band. Some were moved to tears as they passed by.
Being involved with our WWII vets is critical, said 1st Lt. Jeff Hoffer, who was in line in the welcome party.
“It is absolutely important to be here,” Hoffer said. “What we are today is due to what they accomplished. They set the standard. We should always honor our vets.”
With his father-in-law, a WWII veteran, passing away just a few days before the trip departed, Cramer said it was overwhelmingly emotional to be a part of the trip for himself and his son Ian, who accompanied him.
“In many respects we were honoring him...,” Cramer said.
With nearly 200 state veterans still on the waiting list, Sarah Mudder, media relations for the flight, said she believes at least one more trip will go out this year, with the possibility of two.
Funding for the trip comes from private and corporate donations, and each trip costs about $200,000, which includes airfare, transportation, food, lodging and attractions.
“It’s incumbent upon the citizens to step up and help fund this effort,” Cramer said.
Fleener said he’ll always remember the trip.
“It was wonderful,” Fleener said. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the memorial and everything, it was great.”
Going to Washington, D.C. was a little nerve wrecking, as he had never been, said William Tormaschy, an Army veteran from Dickinson.
“It was awesome and way more than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a favorite part, it was all interesting; The White House, the walls, all three walls were fascinating and it was wonderful, wonderful and we had nice people.”
For more information on the Roughrider Honor Flight, visit www.rrhonorflight.com.