There is a distinct sound that comes when a breeze snaps Old Glory to attention. As a sea of Red, White and Blue flags waved in this morning’s April breeze, another sound joined in unison. Laughter, cheers, warm hugs and handshakes melted together in a gathering that has been in the making for months. The Korean War Hero Flight Veterans gathered in my hometown of Broken Bow for their sendoff to Washington DC.
I have spent time each week since February with these Veterans. Their stories are similar and yet unique. One thing in common, something few of us can understand, is that each of them were drafted into service and answered the call to serve the United States. Some were troops on the ground in Korea, others were support there and in neighboring Japan, and some stayed home to take care of business and protect and defend American interests here. Each is a proud Veteran of what is known as America’s forgotten War. Forgotten for some, but not all.
Earlier this year, volunteers came together to begin brainstorming on fundraising ideas that would allow Korean War Veterans to have a weekend trip to Washington DC, accompanied by an escort, and treated to a whirlwind of excitement and adventure. In very short order, these fundraising ideas came together, and the public turned out to support them in droves. But, what else would you expect from Nebraskans? It’s just what we do.
Thanks to the outpouring of support, 25 Veterans from Custer and Buffalo County will take flight today, their trip entirely covered because of generous giving. In addition, their escorts are able to go along for a very reduced fee. A nurse will join them, along with the trip organizers and media coverage. They depart Kansas City tomorrow morning, and will return late Saturday night. Visits to the memorials are planned, as well as a trip to the Army/Navy Club, Arlington Cemetery, and a host of other stops. For many of these men, this will be the first time they have been on an airplane since their time in the service, for many their first trip to Washington DC.
As they joined this morning to load the bus, and say goodbyes, I thought of what it must have been like for them in the early 1950’s. Most of them departed for the Army from Broken Bow, aboard a bus. They were all about 20 years old, just boys. Many of them had to leave jobs and family behind. They knew that things in Korea were dangerous, and they knew there was great possibility they may not return. Still, they must have loaded that bus with the same enthusiasm as they did today. Eager to serve, filled with courage, and proud to be an American. Today, it was hard not to shed a tear as I waved at them through the bus windows. I felt like I had been transported in time.
They made their way through our downtown, with throngs of students and members of the public standing by, many holding flags. The Legion Riders then escorted them to Kearney, where they picked up the rest of the Veterans and then headed east down I80. I imagine the grins coming out from underneath those navy Korean Honor flight caps they received. I think about the conversations on the bus, the new friendships being forged, and the gratitude they all feel for this opportunity. I have never been more proud to be from this community, or of these Veterans, and all who have served and supported them over the years. There is no place like Nebraska.