WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — Over the years, we’ve brought you countless stories of veterans taking Midwest Honor Flight trips. More coverage is on the way with the latest group just returning home Tuesday evening.
Clifford Pederson served with the Army on the frontline in the Korean War. Decades later, the Mitchell man visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.
“Some of my friends I left face down in Korea,” Pederson said. “I cry a lot. I’m about ready to cry now.”
Pederson says Midwest Honor flight gave him some closure.
“Maybe now I can pretty much put all those bad experiences in background and get on with my life,” Pederson said.
Also on the 2019 trip were four brothers, soaking up the experience together. 87-year-old Dean, 85-year-old Delvin, 72-year-old Jerry and 66-year-old Kenny Steever grew up in Bryant, South Dakota. While all veterans, on this trip, two of the brothers served as guardians.
Dan Santella: What’s going through your head right now?
“So many things that I can’t even begin to explain them,” Dean Steever said. “We’ve been to all these memorials and different things, and it’s just been awful good, and I just appreciate all the people that put this on.”
Army veteran Obed Haugen took the trip in 2021.
“Just looking at this reflection pool, I didn’t realize it’s as long as it is,” Haugen said. “Or this Lincoln Memorial, or Washington memorial, the Air Force Memorial. You see pictures of them but that’s not the same as seeing them in person.”
Veteran Charlie Brown from Brandon served with the Army in Vietnam. The trip to Washington brought him to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for the first time.
“It was kind of surreal,” Brown said. “It was like I was telling my daughter, when you see the name on the, the names on the wall and all of a sudden their pictures … they show up in your mind, and what they look like and what they were, how they were, so yeah it was actually quite a traumatic event, really.”
Brown said the trip was good for him.
“Oh yeah it was. Yeah and actually, I’m not sure if it brought any closure; it brought back a lot of memories. And hopefully it’s not going to bring back the nightmares again, but I guess that’s something we’ll have to wait and see,” Brown said.
On every Midwest Honor Flight trip, the honored veterans are front and center. But those they’ve left behind are front and center in their hearts and minds.
As he chatted by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Navy veteran Harold Peterson of Aurora talked about his late wife Barbara.
“She was so happy that I was going to go, so my daughter’s going as my guardian,” Peterson said.
A trip in 2022 included two sets of twins; Ron and Don Damstra as well as Dean and Gene Beitelspacher.
“Being together as twin brothers on this Honor Flight, and both of us each having only one son, and our sons being our guardians today made it a very special day,” Ron said.
“The way this Honor Flight is set up, it’s just unreal how they take care of everybody,” Dean Beitelspacher said.
When Army veteran Dave McFarland from Correctionville, Iowa, was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a statue caught his eye.
“I’m trying to take a picture of it, and this guy walks up to me and he says, ‘What have you been up to, you old dog?'” McFarland said. “I looked at him, and I said I didn’t recognize him. He said, ‘I’m Charlie Six Mike,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s where I was. Charlie Six Mike. That’s our call sign on the radio.'”
That was far more than a coincidence.
“I looked at him, I said, ‘Take your hat off, your sunglasses,'” McFarland said. “‘Who are you?'”
It was his best friend over in Vietnam, a man whom he hadn’t seen for nearly 54 years.
“‘I’m Bill Pepper,'” McFarland said. “And I, ‘Oh my God.'”
“That’s not quite what you said,” his daughter Julia Mason said.
His daughter was McFarland’s guardian on the trip.
“I had reached out to Bill and said, ‘Hey Bill, would you mind writing my dad a letter ’cause he’s going to go on this amazing experience, and I just want you to be a part of it,'” Mason said. “And Bill’s response to me was, ‘I got one better for you- how about I meet you there.'”
After all, meetings, whether done as a group, one-on-one, or alone with private thoughts, and memories, are at the heart of these trips.
Midwest Honor Flight flew veterans out to Washington, D.C., once again on Tuesday; KELOLAND’s Dan Santella accompanied them, and he’ll have several reports on air and online in the coming days.