85 veterans from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa took part in the first mission of Midwest Honor Flight this week. Every vet we spoke with, from conflicts including World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, was blown away by one thing: overwhelming appreciation.

 At the airport in Washington D.C. and back in Sioux Falls at their “Welcome Home” ceremony, the service members were treated to a hero’s welcome. 

“When we came back from Vietnam, we had stuff thrown at us,” Con Van Roekel from Sioux Center said.

Finally getting the welcome they deserve. Vietnam veterans from KELOLAND arrived in the nation’s capital and were treated like rock stars at Reagan National Aiport. 

“A little healing does good. And the thing that was nice was when you got off the plane this morning. That welcome was pretty good,” Bill Borchers said. 

“All of a sudden people were walking up to you and shaking your hand and it was just a nice prize,” Van Roekel said.

Van Roekel served in the infantry during the Vietnam War. Borchers from Sheldon was in artillery providing support. 

Borchers: “Worked good and then at night they’d support us. It’s a team effort.”

Matt Holsen: What’s it like being here with a bunch of other teammates?

Borchers: “Pretty good. It’s a lot easier this time than it was about ten years ago.” 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C. was emotional for many of the 32 men on Honor Flight that contributed to the war effort. Some veterans struggled to even look at the names of the fallen. Though Borchers and Van Roekel say it’s getting easier over time, there’s still a long way to go. 

Matt Holsen: When you look back on it, what do you think about?

Van Roekel: “Well, I think about some of my friends that never came back.” 

For those that did return, a visit to the memorial built in their honor is something they’ll never forget. 

“I don’t believe in dwelling in the past and mistakes, you just do the best you can,” Van Roekel said.  

When the day was done and the veterans flew back to Sioux Falls, another welcome sent the day over the top. 

With support from family and community members like these, Borchers says it’s a completely different world now, for the better. 

“Yeah. It’s time to relax and get healed,” Borchers said.

This is the first of several reports on Midwest Honor Flight this week on KELOLAND TV. Thursday, hear from Korean War Veterans. They had the largest contingent on the flight with 46 veterans.