Two sets of brothers head to DC, on latest Honor Flight
Stan Kasprzak has been to Korea and his brother Walter was in France, Holland and Germany, but neither has visited America's capital.
On Saturday, the Kasprzak brothers, veterans of the Korean War and World War II, respectively, will get their chance to see the monuments honoring the sacrifices made by them and many others on distant battlefields.
They're one of two sets of brothers who served in World War II and Korea traveling on the latest Stars and Stripes Honor Flight that offers free daylong visits to Washington, D.C., before returning home to a hero's welcome at Mitchell International Airport.
"I'm looking forward to seeing all the memorials with my brother," said Stan Kasprzak, 84, of Menomonee Falls. "It should be fantastically interesting and rewarding."
Honor Flight hubs around the nation, including several in Wisconsin, have taken thousands of World War II veterans to Washington, but as their numbers continue to rapidly decline, Korean War veterans have been added to the trips.
"It's exciting to transition to the Korean War veterans, they've been so patient and they have so much respect for the World War II veterans," said Paula Nelson, president of the Port Washington-based Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. "They carried on from the World War II veterans with the same dedication to their country, and they fought for the very same reasons."
On Saturday's flight, 103 World War II and 10 Korean War-era veterans will travel from Milwaukee to Washington, each paired with a guardian. The Korean War veterans will wear different colored shirts than the World War II veterans. The trip will include an extended visit to the Korean War Memorial as well as the World War II and Iwo Jima memorials, Arlington National Cemetery for a changing of the guard ceremony and a stop at Marine Barracks to see the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight has 463 World War II veterans on its waiting list, with more flights scheduled for Sept. 21 and Nov. 2.
Walter Kasprzak, 88, learned of the Honor Flights from his brother. Walter enlisted in the Army after graduating from Boys Tech High School in 1942. A rifleman in the infantry, he ended up in France and Holland and got painful trench foot when he was stuck in a wet, muddy foxhole for days shortly before the Battle of the Bulge.
Stan was a wrecker driver with the Army Corps of Engineers who helped build an airfield in what is now North Korea. He helped arrange the trip to Washington for himself and his brother.
"I'm looking forward to it — I've never flown before," said Walter Kasprzak, who spoke by phone from a Pewaukee nursing home.
State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) is traveling as the guardian for her Brookfield East High School principal, Jerry Stern. He served on a Navy destroyer shortly after World War II ended. Stern, 85, has kept in touch with many of his students and followed Vukmir's political career. Another former student is on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight board and encouraged Stern to apply; Vukmir told him if he did, she would love to accompany him.
"Typical of the folks in that greatest generation, he didn't think he should go because he had been at the actual dedication of the World War II Memorial. He thought others should go," said Vukmir, whose son is in Army ROTC at Marquette University.
Stern wanted to quit high school to join the Navy during World War II, but his football coach told him to earn his diploma first. He did, served his country and returned home like everyone in the military and quietly got on with his life. He earned a degree at Wisconsin State Teachers College in Milwaukee, becoming a biology teacher and later principal before retiring in 1985 after 23 years at Brookfield East.
"We're both excited about it. It should be a wonderful event. I feel very honored and privileged I will have a state senator as my guardian," said Stern.
Brothers Jerry and Ken Kellner also are traveling on the flight. Jerry Kellner, 85, served in the U.S. Coast Guard, dropping out of Sheboygan North High School after his junior year in 1945. He was still training when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and he was assigned to a lighthouse in Virginia.
Ken Kellner, 84, had spent a few years in the Navy Reserve when he was drafted into the Army in 1951. Instead of going to Korea, he was sent to Germany, where he was a courier for the European Command headquarters.
"I was very fortunate to be stationed in Germany," said Ken Kellner, who plans to wear his dog tags on Saturday's flight.
Jerry Kellner, who finished high school through night classes after his Coast Guard service, vividly remembers the end of World War II in August 1945.
"We were locked in our barracks because we didn't have our last (vaccinations), so we couldn't go to Times Square (in New York) and party," said Jerry Kellner.