Two Aberdeen veterans returned home overwhelmed by their experience as guests on recent Midwest Honor Flights.
Ron Krogman and Dave Rogers both served in the early years of the Vietnam War. They didn’t experience the turmoil some veterans did when returning home after public support waned later during the war. Still, both felt honored by their Midwest Honor Flight trips. Krogman was on the September flight, Rogers on the October flight.
During Honor Flights, veterans are flown to Washington, D.C., from Sioux Falls to see the war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. The event includes a banquet the night before the trip and a rousing welcome home.
“I don’t know how you could have made it more perfect,” Krogman said, calling it one of the five best days of his life. “It really made me feel honored and appreciated for my service.”
Honor Flight was ‘something I’ll never forget’
Rogers echoed that sentiment.
“It’s something I’ll never forget and I don’t want to,” he said.
Those flights represented the 16th and 17th missions organized by Midwest Honor Flight. Both Rogers and Krogman noted that details made the one-day trip special.
Though the day is much more than visiting the memorials, Rogers said the two memorials that stood out to him were the Marine Corps War Memorial, a sculpture showing the iconic image of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
While he didn’t serve in the Marines, Rogers said, the image of the flag-raising has always been one that captured his attention.
As for the Korean War memorial, Rogers took note of several sculptures based on photographs. Those sculptures depict soldiers dressed in the gear they would have worn in Korea as if they were walking around the grounds.
The day also included surprises that made it even more special for the veterans.
At one point, Rogers said, he opened a letter written by his son that “touched my heart.”
And when they arrived back in Sioux Falls?
“When we got back it was the noisiest thing you ever saw,” Rogers said of the crowd awaiting the veterans.
Midwest Honor Flight started six years ago
Midwest Honor Flight started in 2017. It continues the mission that the South Dakota Honor Flight program started. South Dakota Honor Flight focused on honoring World War II veterans and organized 12 flights to Washington, the last of which was in 2012.
Midwest Honor Flight CEO Aaron Van Beek said the trips are open to veterans in South Dakota and parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska who served in World War II, Vietnam and Korea.
Priority is given to veterans, even those who are younger and served more recently, with a terminal illness, he said, since the wait time is two to three years.
The Honor Flight Network offers similar trips to veterans in other parts of the country.
Each flight is made possible through donations from a host of groups and organizations, Van Beek said.
“We’re very blessed to have support from all the communities we serve,” he said.
First Honor Flight changed Van Beek’s perspective
Van Beek said he didn’t set out for this to be an ongoing program. He was 20 when he heard about the Honor Flights and was inspired to organize what he thought would be a trip or two.
That was six years ago.
“That first flight changed my perspective,” he said. “There is something that happens on this flight that brings healing and closure they didn’t get.”
Krogman said he was amazed at the crowds of people who were cheering for veterans when they arrived at the airport in Washington and upon returning to South Dakota.
He and Rogers noted the volunteers involved are willing to help in any way.
Not only are they constantly watching veterans to make sure they get the support they need while visiting the memorials, but volunteers also help veterans transfer the engraved names on memorials to pieces of paper if the names are out of reach.
Rogers said it’s clear to him that everyone on his flight wanted to be there instead of feeling obliged.
Since he returned, he said he has proudly worn his red rubber wristband identifying him as an Honor Flight passenger.
He said the wristband can go unnoticed by people who don’t know its significance, but those who’ve been on a flight recognize it immediately and have expressed gestures of solidarity.
Both Rogers and Krogman encourage other veterans to apply for the flights. That can be done by clicking on “apply” at the top of the Midwest Honor Flight website.