At age 16 I lied about my age and joined the South Dakota National Guard. WW2 had been over for five years, and a number of my friends had joined. We would make some extra money, go to a camp once a year and do army stuff; it was interesting and a lot of fun. We didn’t think there would be another war.
We were in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin one morning and a photographer took photos for our hometown newspaper, the Lead Daily Call. The photo above shows me washing my face in a helmet with a sergeant standing nearby.
The date of that old photo is June 25, 1950, and that was the day the Korean War started. Company A of the 109th Combat Engineers would be nationalized, and soon I would be in the Army. The only problem was that I didn’t wanna be in the Army. I wanted to be in the US Navy. So my parents signed some papers, and sure as hell I was a Sailor with a capital ‘S’. The Guard went to Germany and sat guard on a river for two years,
I went to the Inchon landing in Korea on the good ship USS Algol,AKA 54, I was 17.
Fast-forward some 65 years to Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, just three short months ago and the date of the 500th Honor Flight taking veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials and monuments of the many wars we’ve fought.
My neighbor, Steve Anderson is a member of Rotary, a major sponsor of the flights. He knew I was a Korean War vet so he asked if I would go. I said yes, and that is when the confusion started.
He called to wake me up at 4am, picked me up at 5:00, picked up another vet at 5:30, and we all arrived at the Asheville Airport at 6:00. Confusion continued.
There were hundreds of people at the airport at 6am: veteran organizations, Boy Scouts, children, and a loud band, were all there to see us off. There was shouting, cheering, saluting, hand-shaking and the pounding of backs. I really couldn’t understand what was going on. We were 22 WW2 vets, 77 Korean war vets, and one vet from the Vietnam war. We were with two doctors, three flight coordinators, four EMTs, five team leaders, five media reps, and 62 guardians. It took a half hour just to make our way to the plane.
We were wheels up at 8am, and on our way to Washington, DC. The events at the Ashevile airport were still messing with my mind, and when we arrived at National airport there were over a thousand greeters. Many them were members of the military in formation. There was an even bigger band. There were a lot more people shouting and cheering. More waving flags. More people shaking our hands and pummeling our backs. Again, it took a long time for us old guys to make it through the crowd and onto our three large buses. Why had all this happened?
After a while, we were on our way to memorials and monuments and ceremonies with a police escort that got us through all stoplights. We arrived at the Korean memorial and there was a Korean admiral and a general who laid a wreath and presented us with an impressive medal in honor of our service to their country. The American general in charge of all forces stationed in Korea was there just for for 500th Honor Flight.
At 4pm, we attended the somber changing of the guard ritual at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
We returned to Asheville airport at 10:30pm to more cheers, shouts, politicians, bands and several hundred people, including most of my friends and neighbors. It took at least another hour to get through the throng and to our cars. Arriving home I found that my neighbor had placed 25 flags around my lawn.
Why was I confused about the day’s events? When I got home from the war, I don’t remember a hearty welcome, a party, a dinner, or even a cuppa coffee to celebrate my return. I got a job, went to art school, got married, had kids, and went on with a good, lucky, life.
What was the celebration about now that so much time had passed? I enjoyed the trip and all the things we saw and did. I valued all of it. It was nice sharing the company of a bunch of really old vets … some with canes or walkers or wheel chairs. I loved being one of them for a day that was so important to all of us.
Here is the Asheville Citizen Times coverage: http://www.citizen-times.com/videos/life/2016/09/29/91304348/
… thanks for visiting me.