Freedom Honor Flight

The Freedom Honor Flight hosts its 16th flight.

It’s dark and early as dozens of veterans arrive at the airport in La Crosse at 5:30 to take part in the Freedom Honor Flight.

“This is our sixteenth flight,” said Freedom Honor Flight president Pat Stephens.

It doesn’t take long before these veterans realize there is so much more to this flight than a trip to Washington, D.C.

“I love our military,” said one Freedom Honor Flight volunteer.

It’s about saying thank you.

“I look forward to this,” said Mary Tallman, Freedom Honor Flight volunteer, “especially when you see the veterans coming in here.”

This opportunity to show gratitude is why more than 100 volunteers give up their entire day for the men and women who gave up so much more.

“The sacrifices that they’ve made for our country, they cannot be measured,” said Gary Hess with the American Legion Riders club.

As a small token of appreciation, the American Legion Riders club is just one group that helps give these veterans a warm send-off.

“We can’t do enough for them,” said Hess. “That is why we’re here.”

These well-wishes were just the start of the festivities created in honor of our war-time heroes who’ve served our country.

“We have about 15 people from WWII, a little under 70 from Korea, and five from Vietnam,” said Stephens.

The one day trip begins with a warm reception as the veterans enter the airport in Washington, D.C.

Dozens of strangers are waiting for our Coulee Region vets with handshakes and cheers.

“It’s a real priveledge to see the veterans that need to be applauded for all that they’ve done for us,” said an airport passerby.

The veterans then board buses and headed to their first memorial in honor of World War II veterans.

“Utterly Fantastic. Beautiful. It’s a great honor,” said World War II veteran Ivan Sherburne.

Sherburne served in the army as military police during WWII.

“We had the first Japanese prisoners ever taken,” said Sherburne. “We got ‘em. Our company got ‘em.”

This memorial brought back a lot of memories for Ivan. Memories he shared with his new friend and guardian for the day Paul Schoenfeld from Viroqua.

“It’s a great priviledge to be able to help out,” said Schoenfeld.

There are 65 volunteer chaperones who traveled with veterans on this flight. Some are family members. Others, like Schoenfeld, are strictly volunteers who say there are many reasons to help.

“One of them is because my father was in WWII in the navy,” said Schoenfeld. “And it’s a bit of honoring his memory, and it’s a chance to be of some help.”

The chaperones escort the veterans to places like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetary and the Korean War Memorial.

“Today, I’m telling you, this is out of this world,” said World War II veteran Mary Kime.

And for the volunteers, knowing these veterans feel appreciated is the meaning behind this flight.

“Chaperone has been absolutely so marvelous,” said Kime. “And if everybody treated everybody else like she does, they’ll all go home happy.”

And waiting for them at home, were thousands of people ready to give our nation’s heroes a proper home coming.

“Most of the veterans when they returned from service there was no ticker tape parade or welcome home for them,” said Stephens.

That all changed this weekend with the help of hundreds of volunteers, thousands of dollars in donations, and one flight.