WATERLOO, Iowa --- The Honor Flight program took a different turn this week.
Thirty-nine Korean War veterans joined 53 of their military comrades from World War II on the fifth Honor Flight out of Waterloo Regional Airport to visit Washington, D.C.
Veterans of the Korean conflict, in which American soldiers fought in 1950-53, said they welcomed the opportunity to take an Honor Flight.
“It’s kind of been the forgotten thing and we (Korea veterans) kind of get swept under the carpet,” said Duane Nottger, 77, who was a machinist mate 3rd class in the Navy from 1952 to 1956 and served on the USS Fletcher and then the USS Epperson. The war was especially hard on ground troops. “They went through a lot of bad times over there. Especially the winters, it was nasty.”
The vets are scheduled for a daylong trek to the National World War II Memorial and the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam and Iwo Jima memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery, for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Tuesday’s Honor Flight participants came from as far as Des Moines, Monona and Ottumwa, although about 80 were residents of the Cedar Valley area.
“It means a great deal; I’m really honored that we get to go, because quite a few of us Korean vets are still around,” said Gordon Licht, 83, of Waverly, who served as an electronics technician in the U.S. Air Force in 1951-55. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
Licht and Nottger both said they were looking forward most to seeing the memorials, but Licht said there was something else.
“It’s seeing all the memorials, especially the Korean memorial and Washington, D.C., but also I’m also looking forward to visiting with all the other vets,” Licht said.
Former Waterloo Police Chief Junior Grimm, 86, will represent both wars on the flight.
Grimm, a master chief signalman in the Navy, served on a baby aircraft carrier in the Pacific in World War II and was stateside throughout the Korean conflict.
“I joined when I was 17, so I grew up in the Navy,” said Grimm, who put in 42 years of service and retired as a Navy Command Master Chief.
The first Honor Flight to include Korean War veterans is an important step in the program, Grimm said.
“It means very much to me because I’m a real strong supporter of all veterans groups and some of my people who were in the Navy and reserves in Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “I think it’s a great tribute to those people to make an Honor Flight.”