Freedom Honor Flight: A trip to remember

88 veterans welcomed home after visiting war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Freedom Honor Flight just marked its 13th trip from La Crosse, taking 88 veterans to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

They spent the entire day traveling from memorial to memorial. At times it a day to share with buddies. Other times a day to reflect on memories they may never have shared.

It was a trip they will never forget, which is pretty amazing considering it was a trip WWII vets Gerry Besl and Everett Johnson and Korean vets Ken Garves and Robert Long almost didn’t make at all.

“I was pushed into it,” Long said. “I work at Ace hardware and I had a guy keep asking me ‘Have you gone on an Honor Flight yet?’  He gave me the papers. The third time he had them mostly filled out. All I had to do was sign it.

Like Long, many of the veterans on this flight and those who’ve gone before said no before they said yes.

Everett Johnson was asked to go on the very first flight and many more along the way. Lucky for him his step daughter wouldn’t take no for answer.

“She pushed me a little bit. So that’s what I need. I had to be pushed, she said.”

Health issues do get in the way for some and for others the flight just isn’t appealing.

But for the majority of veterans that don’t go, their reason is true to form: They don’t feel deserving of the experience. Their war story isn’t nearly as bad as the next guy’s. They were just doing their duty. A generation of modest men and women who have a hard time accepting the praise and recognition.

But here’s the thing – not a one of them regrets making the trip.

“Oh this is great.  I should have come sooner. I kept putting it off but I am so glad I am here today.”

And just when they think it’s over, when the day couldn’t possibly get any better, they hear the music and the cheers. They see the fireworks and the signs. And they realize the best part is coming home.

“Speechless.  Amazing.  I didn’t think that many people would come to see some old men,” Long said.

“It’s something else.  Very much appreciated,” Besl said.

“I gotta talk to the veterans and tell them how great it is,” Johnson said.” Everybody I talked to that’s what I am going to tell them: what they’re missing. I’m just so excited about it.”

If you would like to fill out an application, you can find them at That is also where you will find information on how to donate. These flights are only possible by donations.

And as long as they have funds, they plan to continue to fly. WWII vets have priority right now, then Korean vets. Then they hope to be able to move on to Vietnam vets.

You can also mail a donation to: P.O. Box 505, La Crosse, WI 54601.

News 8 will be airing an hour long special on the honor flights around the state. Several veterans from our area will be featured in the program. “They fought for Freedom” will air on Sunday, June 8 at 10:35  p.m. and on Sunday, June 15 from 1-2 p.m.