Minn. veterans ready for trip to D.C. memorials
St. Cloud Times, Minn.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A group of more than 70 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, and their friends and family spent Sunday afternoon getting ready for an April 17 trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight program.
St. Cloud Honor Flight takes a group of World War II veterans from Central Minnesota on a one-day trip to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials and historic sites. The program is now allowing Korean and Vietnam veterans to come, too.
More than 50 volunteers — two-thirds of them family members — were trained as guardians, to be responsible for the veterans on the trip.
National Honor Flights have been around since 2005. There are more than 121 Honor Flight hubs in 41 states, including four in Minnesota. The first St. Cloud Honor Flight left the ground in 2009, and nationwide more than 98,500 veterans have been a part of Honor Flights since their inception.
The trip is paid for with fundraising by private and corporate donations.
Capturing the moment
The guardians were let in on a few surprises that are planned for the veterans during the trip, organizer James Tuorila said.
Three videographers will accompany the veterans to shoot photographs and video. They then will package the video and give copies to the veterans.
One of the videographers, Brad Veenstra, said he’s done several flights.
“It’s hard to take pictures with tears in your eyes,” he said.
Volunteer John Pearson said that on a previous trip, he offered to shoot video of a veteran telling his story. “This opens the door for these people ... to things they’ve held for many, many years,” he said.
The group met Sunday at VFW Post 428 in St. Cloud to learn about what they’d be doing and logistics.
That includes thinking ahead, dressing for the weather, bringing enough medication or stuff for dietary reasons. It means planning for mobility issues.
They advise guardians to take the camera from the veteran to get photos with the veteran in them.
“I average 300 pictures,” Tuorila said, and he’s not one of the official photographers.
“Every time I go, it’s a new experience because it’s different people,” he said.
During the trip the group will present a flag at the Minnesota pedestal at the World War II memorial.
They’ll also visit the Navy, Air Force, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean war memorials, as well as the Marine Corps’ Iwo Jima memorial.
Later in the afternoon, they will head to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“It’s a very, very emotional time,” Tuorila said.
Vietnam veteran Bruce Rust of Sartell said his cousin helped him sign up for the flight. He spent three years in the Navy and 18 years in the Army Reserve.
He said he was glad the Korean and Vietnam veterans were part of the trip.
“We never got welcomed back,” he said, of the Korean and Vietnam vets.
There was more than one father-daughter duo going. Vietnam veteran Jerry Weyer and his daughter, Tammy Weyer of St. Joseph, are making the trip.
“It’s something my dad’s always wanted to see,” Tammy said, who agreed to accompany her father.
“I guess that’s called a loving daughter,” Jerry joked, who served for 20 years in the Air Force.
“I’m really excited about the trip,” Tammy said.
Korean War veteran Norb Dardis is going with his daughter, Chris Paumen. He served as an Army cook in Germany.
Dardis said he found out at the yearly meeting at his Legion and signed up.
“I’m getting kind of old, this might be the last one,” he said.
“He’s very patriotic,” Paumen said. The trip also happens to fall on the week of his birthday.
The two had traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1980, but hadn’t been since the Korean War memorial was opened. Paumen knows it will be emotional.
“I just hope I don’t bawl,” she said.
A 'rewarding thing'
This is the first honor flight for Gold Cross medic Tom Travaglio.
“I have no idea what to expect,” he said. “Previous medics have told me it was the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done.”
He and three registered nurses will accompany the flight, so they can immediately respond to medical emergencies.
World War II veteran Jim Becker said he heard about the flight from some friends.
“They said it was fantastic,” he said. “I’m very happy to do it.”
“It means an awful lot to me,” he said. “A lot of stuff, I don’t want to think about.”
The group continues to seek funds so that it can pay for a welcome home reception after the flight.
They’re having a steak fry from 4 p.m.-midnight Saturday at the VFW 428 in St. Cloud.