Story County Freedom Flight begins with send-off ceremony
Ames Tribune, Iowa
The second Story County Freedom Flight is Tuesday, but it began Sunday at Ames City Auditorium with a send-off ceremony honoring the veterans who will be on the flight.
“This trip has been on my bucket list,” Gary Evans, a Vietnam veteran from Nevada, said. “I’m just excited to be going.”
This year’s participants are 31 World War II veterans, 50 Korean War veterans and 69 Vietnam veterans, including two women. All of the veterans on the flight either live in Story County now or did when they enlisted.
“This means a lot because we’ve been there, done that, and served our country with pride,” Eldon Boswell, of Nevada, said. Boswell, who served during the Korean War, said he “wanted to see the monuments with this group,” and that there was a sense of brotherhood in seeing them together.
On Sunday, the veterans gathered first at Iowa State University for a motorcade tour through the campus and downtown Ames. The veterans rode on buses with a motorcycle escort and were accompanied by area law enforcement officials and firefighters. The motorcade was greeted when it arrived at City Auditorium by a large crowd of friends and family members.
Highlights of the ceremony included a medley of service branch songs, a performance of “God Bless America” and a special presentation of an honorary high school diploma to veteran Donald Phipps.
Phipps was a member of the 2012 Freedom Flight, and received his honorary diploma through the Iowa Department of Veteran’s Affairs Operation Recognition program. The program recognizes veterans who didn’t complete their high school diplomas because of service during World War II, the Vietnam War or the Korean War. Phipps, a World War II veteran, received his honorary diploma from Boone High School.
He was then also presented with a letter of honorary acceptance to ISU, signed by ISU President Steven Leath.
Also presented at the ceremony were a Gold Star wreath and POW/MIA flag.
The Gold Star wreath, which represents soldiers who lost their lives in service, will be taken on Tuesday’s trip and placed on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Tony Nussbaum, Sunday’s master of ceremonies, said.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Larry Spencer presented the POW/MIA flag. Spencer, a Vietnam veteran, was a POW for nearly seven years.
Spencer was also Sunday’s keynote speaker, and spoke to the bond that exists between veterans.
“There’s a tremendous bond that exists between people that have served in the military,” Spencer said. “It doesn’t make any difference which service you were in, it doesn’t make very much difference which conflict, or even if there was an act of war going on when you served. The bond that exists between military people is unique. Often it is not even expressed in words.”
The Freedom Flight departs early Tuesday morning, and will return home Tuesday night. Organizer Ava Haun, of Zearing, said 30 to 50 volunteers will travel along with the veterans to accompany them on the day’s tours. The flight will also be met by a group of servicemen in Washington, D.C., who will help assist the veterans, Haun said.
“A lot of us are military veterans ourselves on this committee, so we know how to manifest a whole group of people and all the logistics involved to move such a group of people,” Haun said.
Story County Treasurer Renee Twedt, an organizer and co-founder of the Story County Freedom Flight, told the veterans Sunday, “While this one day can’t erase any pain that you carry for all these years, we hope in a small part it does. Our goal is to tell you two words: thank you. Thank you for being great men and women of character. Thank you for all that you have done. Thank you for your service. And thank you for giving us the freedom that we have today.”