Veterans celebrated at Honor Flight homecomingWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Amanda Tindall and Jordan Finney, Toledo Free Press Staff Writers
An expectant crowd of hundreds cheered, clapped and waved American flags as dozens of men and women in orange shirts emerged from a plane. As one older man stepped inside the Grand Aire hangar at Toledo Express Airport, he suddenly clasped his hand over his mouth. Tears filled his eyes, expressing the emotions he could not describe with words.
As the pair inched toward and finally past the crowd, many spectators whispered their thanks and reached out to shake the hand of the gray-haired man.
He was one of 61 Korean War veterans and nine World War II veterans who had just returned from an Honor Flight Northwest Ohio trip to Washington, D.C., on June 18.
“I couldn’t even put it into words,” said James Lehenert, who served in the Korean War. “It was beautiful. We really need corporations and companies to donate. We need to set up some sort of program to raise money for this. Every man and woman who has served needs to experience this. It’s just tear-jerking. I can’t put it into words. That’s the best I can give you.”
David Chilson, flight organizer and member of the Honor Flight Northwest Ohio’s board of directors, said the Honor Flight Network was founded to give every World War II veteran the chance to see the WWII monument in Washington, D.C.. The monument was finished in 2004, 11 years after the project was authorized by congress.
Many of the veterans on June’s honor flight said their homecoming from Washington, D.C., was the homecoming they never received when they got back from war.
“All we had when I came back were people begging for money off the streets,” Airman Carl Maag said of his return from the Korean War. “This is the best reception I’ve ever had. I’ve never shaken so many hands in my entire life.”
“I was amazing,” said Walter Trenkamp, who served in the Army during the Korean War. “ It meant a lot. Especially the people, even kids. They’d reach out and shake your hand, even give you a hug. It was the best moment I’ve had in recent history.”
In September, Northwest Ohio will send its last round of veterans, each one accompanied by a guardian, to visit the memorials. The trip for September is already fully booked, Chilson said.
“Because of lateness of the World War II memorial being completed in 2004, we have taken really all of the World War II veterans who have applied,” Chilson said. “Many of the other hubs around the country have shut down once they took the WWII veterans. We’ve gone well beyond that.”
Although the flights are meant mainly for WWII veterans, one of those veterans set aside money in his will for a flight of Vietnam veterans. In October 2012, Honor Flight Northwest Ohio sent 143 Vietnam veterans. Instead of stopping at the Korean War and WWII monuments, the veterans went straight to a ceremony in their honor at the Vietnam War memorial.
The veterans on the most recent trip were honored all throughout the day, as they saw the memorials and the 9/11 crash site at the Pentagon. Navy and Korean War veteran Thomas Sigler said eight police patrols held back traffic as the three buses of veterans returned to the airport for their flight home.
“It’s just overwhelming. The reception we got here tonight was the same as when we got to Washington, D.C.,” said Thomas Dorn Sr., who served in the Army during the Korean War. “They were all lined up waiting for us. When I came back the first time, we were getting adverse reactions. We didn’t really get a reception. We were sometimes called baby killers, which just wasn’t true. It just wasn’t true. This was our real homecoming.”