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Honor Flight: Once in a lifetime trip to our nation's capitol for local veterans

Posted at 8:18 AM, Nov 11, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this fall, News5's Brie Groves traveled to our nation's capital with Honor Flight of Southern Colorado as 26 local veterans connected with their comrades and visited hallowed ground.

The Honor Flight Network is a national network of independent hubs working together to honor our veterans with an all-expenses paid trip many may not otherwise be able to take.

You can watch News5's Honor Flight special on KOAA-TV at the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. Or on our streaming platform KOAA News5 for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV or AndroidTV, visit our apps page to learn more.

Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the chance to share this momentous trip with other veterans, to remember friends and comrades lost, and share their stories and experiences with each other.

We witnessed the incredible moments experienced by our southern Colorado heroes. This is a piece of the journey, telling their stories.

The long weekend included visits to sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial. We also visited the United States Navy Memorial, the United States Air Force Memorial, and the Arlington National Cemetery. The visit also included the Tomb of the Unknown, and we witnessed the changing of the Guard.

Your donations enable the Honor Flight Network to continue the mission to transport our nation’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials. At this time, the Honor Flight Network is serving veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans.

Honor Flight: Airports filled with support for our heroes

From take-off to landing, communities showed up at the airports, welcoming our veterans with signs, flags, and more.

The veterans arrived for their outbound flight from the Colorado Springs Airport with an escort by the Patriot Guard and others as they set off for their monumental tour.

The Colorado Springs Airport also provided breakfast and lunch. Marine Melvin Postlewait says, "The best day of my life started at 7 this morning. They rolled out the red carpet for us."

The surprises continued as we landed in Chicago and D.C. It was a hero's welcome.

John Mosher, our only submariner on the trip, explains it from his view, "The most amazing thing was when we got off the plane, and all of the people in the terminal were clapping and applauding. I didn't see that coming."

Mosher goes on to say, "It gives you faith that maybe the general populous does appreciate veterans now, which of course the Vietnam era they certainly did not."

A long-awaited arrival, as Vietnam veteran Bob Rodriguez puts it, “I’ve heard so many people talk about it, and now I get the chance to experience it myself, and I’ve been looking forward to it so long.”

Overcoming obstacles to get our Veterans on the Honor Flight

Getting on the flight to our nation's capital was a bit bumpy. It started before the sun came up when Vietnam veteran Bob Rodriguez slipped outside of the Colorado Springs Airport.

He broke his collarbone but was not going to let that stop him from the trip of a lifetime. Bob was taken to the Emergency Room as soon as we landed. He kept a smile throughout the trip and enjoyed every moment.

Then there was Ron Wilson, who popped a tire on the way to the Colorado Springs Airport. It left him stranded with only minutes to make the trip he had been dreaming of.

We called nearly all of the ride-sharing companies and tow trucks in town, but everyone seemed to be running behind. Brie Groves made a call to KOAA to get someone to Ron's aide. Co-anchor Ira Cronin answered the call and rushed to Ron's rescue. Ira changed Ron's tire and, while doing so, urged Ron to take his personal vehicle so he would miss his flight.

KOAA was able to get Ron's pick-up to Ledom's Truck and Diesel Repair, who went on to donate and install an entirely new set of tires for Ron. Greg Budwine, the co-owner of Ledoms, told us, "We are proud to do this. They are a part of our community and fought for us to be able to do what we are doing today. It's important we take care of our veterans, and that's what we love to do."

Ledom's Repair also got Ron's truck back to the airport in time for our homecoming. More proof that our community is amazing.

Ron wrote a wonderful thank you note that mentions, "This gave me a huge surge of respect for those who really care about military veterans." Ron says, "Except for my family I truly never experienced love and respect of this nature during and after the three times I returned from Vietnam"

It was the least we could do to say thank you for the freedom you have given us.

Honor Flight: A reunion and legacy in the making

As soon as we walked into the hotel lobby in Washington, D.C., a very special moment took place.

Jack Slocum, our only World War II veteran aboard the trip, was in tears, "I thought he was out to sea."

Jack's grandson Gabe Hernandez, an Aviation Operations Officer in the Navy, planned an unforgettable surprise.

Gabe had just gotten word that he was not being transferred, and immediately,  "I talked to my wife and was like, 'Hey, we can visit and surprise grandpa Jack for the honor flight."

Gabe, his wife, and their young daughter were able to make it to each of the memorials with Grandpa Jack and his comrades.

Gabe says, "For my daughter to see that and my whole family, it's just so cool to see all of them together like that." 

Jack was all smiles with his family, seen playing with his great-granddaughter and doting on his grandson's uniform, "That was really outstanding. Everyone made a comment about that." 

The legacy Gabe carries on in the Navy, following in the footsteps of Grandpa Jack. 

Jack explains, "He was enlisted for quite some time and then got promoted, and I was same 21 years enlisted and 3 years as captain." And as we all know, time is fleeting, making these moments extra special.

"I'm just blessed to be here and glad we get to share this moment together," says Gabe.

Honor Flight: World War II, Vietnam, and Korea memorials trigger the past

On the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., panel 8E, line 118 lists US Army Private First Class Lance J. Cleveland of Pallyup, Washington.

One of the men on our trip is PFC Cleveland's cousin. "I named my son after him," explains Greg Bucholz, who is also a Vietnam War veteran.

The moment he saw the name on the wall was hard to put into words, "I can't believe it. It brings tears to my eyes," Bucholz told us. The wall is filled with stories like Greg’s.

Wilmer Wymia, also a Vietnam War veteran, was seen with an entire list in his hand, scouring the wall.

Full of emotion, Wilmer tells us the trip was hard because he knew it would bring him back, “I didn’t think I could do it.” Wilmer relives the days he spent in the midst of combat and those he lost.

He shared a very difficult time in combat, saying, "Our company commander got shot, and I helped drag him out. Five of our guys were killed in one day. So, this is hard, but I want to give them a tribute. This is a very meaningful day.”

The stories are hard to hear. Even harder to live.

At the World War II memorial, we spent time with Jack Slocum, our only WW II veteran on the trip. Slocum tells us, “I was drafted at 18."

He shared, “I came here to find out the names of some of my friends, and I haven’t found them yet.“

Honor Flight: The untold story behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Possibly the most iconic moment on our trip watch witnessing the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That night at dinner, we learned more about the tomb.

Veteran Rick Martinchalk explains: "In 1984, President Reagan decided that he was going to close the book on Vietnam, the last chapter in the book was going to be a person put into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They went out, and they looked scoured all over the place for an unknown soldier."

Advisors told him that in the future, they were going to be able to identify this unknown soldier, but Reagan wanted to close that book. He had the ceremony on May 28, 1984. Reagan accepted a flag for the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the unknown family.

Well, there was a family that thought her son was in that casket, but they couldn't prove it. The soldier's sister happened to be in the military also, and she was able to push things forward very systematically. 

Come to find out that when they opened it up, Blassie was in that tomb. For 14 years, the remains of Air Force Academy Graduate and First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie lay beneath the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. " 

Blassie, a decorated pilot, was 24 when he died in May 1972. His 138th combat mission ended near An Loc, South Vietnam when a wing was blasted off his plane by enemy fire. Blassie had flown in 130 combat missions. 

Honor Flight: A final salute to Dan's father

It was inside the Arlington National Cemetery where a very special moment took place for one of our veterans.

Dan Neverdahl got a chance to salute his father one last time. His dad served in the 82nd Airborn at Bastogne and passed away in 2016.

Dan was unable to be at the funeral and was never sure he'd get to see his dad's grave. 

Dan Neverdahl, U.S. Air Force, explains, "For them to stop so we could get off the bus and walk over there and see the grave. It was touching. Still is. I was able to salute him, and that's emotional."

Dan was wearing his dad's watch from the United States Air Force that day.

Your donations enable the Honor Flight Network to continue the mission to transport our nation’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials. At this time, the Honor Flight Network is serving veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans.

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