Three brothers traveling on 24th Freedom Honor Flight

More veterans from our area will get a chance tomorrow to see the monuments built in their honor. The 24th Freedom Honor Flight leaves from the La Crosse Regional Airport Saturday morning.

On Friday, crews were busy at Colgan Air Hangar Four setting up for the send-off and return ceremonies. 95 veterans from World War Two, the Korean War and Vietnam War-era are scheduled to be on the flight.

A band of brothers from the La Crosse area will be on board. Al, Jim and Rich Erickson are all Vietnam War-era veterans.

Four Erickson brothers had originally signed up together to go on the flight, but sadly, their brother Ed passed on before that could happen. Rich Erickson said the group never talked much about their experience in the service, but hopes this will help them come together.

Erickson comes from a pretty big family– there was bis mom Catherine, dad James, and seven siblings. They’re a very tight-knit family.

“When I was growing up, we did everything as a family. Mom and dad and all of us kids. We did everything together,” Erickson said.

After high school, he was looking for a better job, so he decided to enlist.

“Maybe I’ll just join the army and see the world. And that I did,” Erickson said.

In their late teens and early twenties, his brothers Jim, Al and Ed were also making that decision.

“Jim, who is going with [Saturday] was on a battleship off the coast,” Erickson said.

Al was a cook, but never really cooked.

“He doesn’t think they liked his cooking so they had him driving a mess hall supply truck,” Erickson said.

His brother Ed served in the U.S. Navy with the Seabees, building camps for marines.

“He had a pretty tough time over there,” Erickson said.

Ed was exposed to Agent Orange and eventually developed COPD. They had all applied together for Freedom Honor Flight, which had offered them the opportunity to get moved up on the list because of his illness, but they declined.

“Ed was the kind of guy– he said, ‘I don’t want to bump anybody else off,” Erickson said.

The four veterans had never really talked about what they had seen during the war. It wasn’t until Ed Erickson’s death in late 2016, that they had learned what he went through.

“We’re pretty sad about him not going with us,” Erickson said.

Saturday would have been his birthday. While they won’t have Ed there to tour the different stops, Rich said he is excited to see the Vietnam War Memorial to pay his respects.

“I have a lot of friends who are on there,” Erickson said.

And wants to see the World War II, Korean War, and Lincoln Memorials, along with Arlington National Cemetary.

“That’s something that people only see on TV,” Erickson said.

It’s an unforgettable sight that he’ll get to see with his brothers by his side.

“I wouldn’t want to go out there by myself if I had a choice of going there with my brothers. We’re a really close-knit family,” Erickson said.

Freedom Honor Flight has been taking veterans from La Crosse to Washington D.C. for more than 11 years. Since then, nearly 3,000 area veterans have taken the flight.

The public is invited to participate in two special ceremonies for the flight Saturday. Doors open for the send-off ceremony at 6 a.m. and the flight is expected to arrive back in La Crosse about 11 o’clock in the evening. Both take place at Colgan Air Hangar 4.

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