WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — 85 area veterans received the Midwest Honor Flight treatment on Tuesday when they visited the memorials dedicated to the conflicts in which they served.
“Just as it says, an honor,” Navy veteran Pat Buchanan of the Chancellor, S.D. area said. “An honor to be able to go down here with these other gentlemen and ladies and see all this in Washington.”
“I just feel blessed that I’m able to take part of this with all the other men and women that have served in the military,” Army veteran LeRoy Madsen of Pierre said.
“It gives me humble pride to make it back because so many didn’t, and we’ll see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial later today,” Army veteran Bob Hurd of Brookings said.
Hurd recalled a special welcome while standing next to the Marine Corps War Memorial on Tuesday.
“One of the best hugs I ever got in my life was from my mother when I came back from Vietnam,” Hurd said. “She’s a small woman, about five-foot two, but she just about crushed my lungs.”
Veterans whose loved ones could never again hug them like that are part of the trip, too.
“I lost a lot of good friends over there,” Navy veteran Kenneth Boellaard of Sioux Falls said.
Boellaard has personal connections to names on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“I know three of them,” Boellaard said.
Wilma Hoksbergen of Hull, Iowa served as a guardian on the trip. Her late husband was another person not there in person.
“It’d be nice if he could see it,” Hoksbergen said.
He served with the Air National Guard in Vietnam and later suffered from dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
“That came from Agent Orange, and he passed away January of 2016,” Hoksbergen said.
She says it’s not difficult to talk about the Vietnam War.
“Not really,” Hoksbergen said. “It was a part of our life.”
Guardians like her help the journey happen. The honored veterans were on the trip at various stages of their lives; Army veteran Harvey Bolks of northwest Iowa is 90 years old.
“By the grace of God, he give me a good life, a long life … I can make 100 the way I feel yet today,” Bolks said.
The day’s memories will be with the veterans for years to come.
“I was looking forward to it and then enjoyed it,” Army veteran Ronald Orth of Sioux Falls said. “And I highly recommend it to any veteran.”