November 5, 2013

Honor Flight QC

Morrison,-Bob-colorBy Bob Morrison and Mary Huebbe
Marketing & Development Director Ridgecrest Village

Honor Flight of the Quad Cities had an unusual trip October 3, 2013. Priority is given to WWII Veterans, terminally ill veterans, and Korean war-time veterans. The National Parks were closed, including the WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Women’s Memorial, and Iwo Jima Memorial. The government shutdown and a shooting in Washington DC wasn’t the only think that kept this trip unique for our veterans. An owl created a “fowl” start!

The day started well, with 162 people ready to travel to their Honor Flight by 6 am. The Quad-City International Airport has the process down to an organized effort to get 92 Veterans and 70 Guardians through security; pictures of each from Walgreens; belt packs and cameras for the veterans; and donuts, juice and coffee from the Salvation Army for all. The plan was to take off at 7 am. As the Sun Country 737 plane landed on the runway, an owl flew into one of the two jet engines. What to do? First, they located another plane in Houston Texas and began the process to find a crew and fly to Moline. This new plane would not arrive until at least 11:30 a.m. Cathie Rochau distributed QC Airport water to everyone to be helpful.

Secondly, a mechanic was brought in from Carver Air to inspect the damage. Pictures were sent to their home office. Sending a mechanic with better diagnostic equipment from Minneapolis would take too long. Another engine would even take longer. If this happened, we would have to reschedule.

The co-pilot came in to apologize to the Veterans for the delay, and then she personally shook everyone’s hand with a personal apology. Meanwhile the crew on the plane started heating up breakfast to be ready in case it would be needed to eat in the airport.

A team of engineers at Sun Country used the pictures to put together a plan to fix the engine. The plan was faxed to the airport, and the mechanic was brought back to help. Eventually the plane pulled away from the terminal so the engine could be tested. It worked, so the plane took off three hours after our scheduled start.

The Dulles volunteer welcoming crew and all three motor coaches waited for us to arrive. Fortunately four Congress Representatives and two U.S. Senators allowed us to get through the WWII barriers, and a dozen Tea Party volunteers helped with pictures and welcoming. Senator Chuck Grassley, and Congressmen Steve King, Bruce Braley, and Dave Loebsack from Iowa were there. Senator Mark Kirk and Congress Representative Cheri Bustos were there from Illinois.

The group was not affected by the car chase that ended in a shooting that day in Washington DC. Korean War veteran Glenn Miller of Spring Valley said they didn’t even know about it until they got on the plane to return home. Congressmen Braley and King moved the barriers at the Korean Memorial for our busses to arrive. Fifteen people from South Korea were there to greet our veterans, showing appreciation with bows and thanks for our veteran’s effort in keeping that country free. A “terminally ill” Viet Nam veteran was wheeled by his Guardian to see the Vietnam wall. This was a highlight of the trip. Robert Ashley of Tonica said he thought people forgot about the Korean War but this proved otherwise.

Next, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was an impressive display of precision. The click of their heel has the reputation of the loudest in the world. The leader honored our vets by skipping his heel one time on his way in.

For the first time, they visited the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon. Each bench had an inscribed name of a murdered civilian or soldier and beautiful flowing water underneath. Fifteen uniformed soldiers welcomed our veterans with the tour. Then the Air Force memorial, a trip through Fort Myer Army Base, and a highway drive around the Iwo Jima memorial.

While waiting for the Sun Country crew to return, our veterans received letters from school kids and relatives. This “mail call” reminded them of receiving letters from home when they were in the field.

As they came off the plane in the Quad Cities, they received “Sargent Camo” Whitey’s Ice Cream. They found a welcome home group of over three hundred as they made their way through the airport.

Despite setbacks, participants enjoyed the visit. Thomas Burke of Princeton said, “The people who run the honor flight program were just super. Everything was excellent. I wish our government ran the same way.”

“It’s something that I will never forget as long as I live.” Ashley said, “It was a memorable occasion.”

Hub Director Morrison said, “Anybody who is a vet from WWII or Korean War-time, whether they served in combat or not, it’s important for them to be involved. The trip is a well-deserved experience!”

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