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May 16, 2018 05:05 PM

67 Korean War Veterans Experience Midwest Honor Flight

Wednesday, more than 80 Veterans from KELOLAND are remembering their trip of a lifetime on Midwest Honor Flight. "Mission 2" is taking the Vets from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War to the memorials built in their honor in Washington, D.C.

This flight features 67 Korean War Veterans. The recognition they are getting this week is bringing them to tears. 

A national anthem fires up the day as some of the country's national treasures prep for one "final tour with honor."  

Following a swift flight from Sioux Falls, Veterans including Clayton McLaughlin, from the small South Dakota town of White Lake, arrive at Reagan National to a hero's welcome. 

"I couldn't say enough. I couldn't say enough," McLaughlin said. "Want to cry."

The 85-year-old, who lives in a nursing home with his wife, is off to a memorable start. 

"Happy. I'm Happy," McLaughlin said.

That joy shifts to quiet contemplation as a parade of buses carries the Veterans to Arlington National Cemetery. 

"That was done precisely. Not one step was wrong," Clarence Vanderlei said.

Clarence Vanderlei, who enlisted on his own and joined the Army artillery during the Korean War, is experiencing the "Honor Flight" with his bearded-son Larry. 

Matt Holsen: That wouldn't fly in the military would it?

Vanderlei: I don't believe it. It would whip in the wind wouldn't it? 

All jokes aside, the man from Springfield, SD, is grateful to be spending time with other Veterans and is thinking about his fellow soldiers who were lost in battle. 

"I think about the poor... that didn't make it," Vanderlei said. "It's hard to see them go."

Korean War Veterans make up the largest group on Mission 2 of Midwest Honor Flight. Army vet Elmer Frank of Gregory was in the infantry in Korea. Wednesday, he's being flanked all day by a special guest from the Navy. 

"He was standing there at the door of the plane to greet me. My grandson," Elmer Frank said.

That grandson is Chief Petty Officer Shaun Hessman who is stationed in Norfolk, VA.

"Drove up here so I could just surprise him and enjoy the day with him," Hessman said.

Dressed in his Navy Summer Whites, Hessman and his hero are drawing plenty of looks. 

"Ever since he was a little boy, I taught him how to dress," Frank said. "Yes I'm proud of his service. I've got two more grandsons in." 

No doubt following in the footsteps of a great role model. 

"It's been amazing. A once in a lifetime trip for sure," Hessman said. 

The trip is made possible by thousands of donations. Gestures these fine Veterans, especially Clayton McLaughlin, will never forget. 

McLaughlin: It's hard to believe people would do that. 

Matt Holsen: What do you want to say to those people.

McLaughlin:
I love them. I love them and I thank them. 

Our coverage continues the rest of this week. Tomorrow night, Midwest Honor Flight made room for a handful of Vietnam Veterans battling critical illnesses on the trip. Hear from them and see why the visit to Washington, D.C., was extra meaningful on Thursday. 

© 2018 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.
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