Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Honor Flight offers veterans closure

 

Karin Swor

Veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that honors those who lost their lives while fighting in the Vietnam War.

Any military veteran can now apply to go to Washington, D.C., on the Honor Flight-Northland, Karin Swor, one of the organizers, told a group of senior citizens on Monday, August 29, at the Refire luncheon in Carlton.

The non-profit group, Honor Flight-Northland, is in the process of raising $90,000 in funds for the next trip, which has been set for April 29, 2017. Applications to go on the trip are being taken.

"Once we get an application, we interview the veteran and then his or her name is added to the list to go," Swor added. "We go by the date the veteran applied. World War II veterans and the veterans who applied earlier are given priority. We encourage male and female veterans, even if they served in the states, to go."

Swor explained the honor flights were started by a man in Ohio who wanted to take his father to visit the memorials in Washington, D.C. He rented a small plane and took his father.

His father enjoyed the experience. Now there are clubs all over the United States.

The trips to Washington from Duluth began in 2009, Swor and another organizer, Gerry Herrington, said. They are planning the 10th trip for veterans.

"I wanted to take my dad, but couldn't," said Swor. "Now I am taking his friends."

The trip is free for veterans.

"They can go without a penny in their pockets, unless they want to buy a souvenir," said Swor. "It doesn't matter how rich or poor they are - they all go for free.

"We provide a shirt for them with Honor Flight Northland written on it, and we provide other necessities, such as wet wipes, snacks, a bottle of water and a holder to carry it in."

Veterans from all over the Northland, from Pine County up to the Canadian border and northwest Wisconsin, can apply to go on the trip.

Guardians are needed to attend to the needs of the veteran. Guardians can be family members and each has to pay $600 for the one-day trip.

"A veteran can pay for a family member, such as a grandchild, to go, but the veterans have to give the money to the person beforehand and then the guardian must pay for the trip," Swor said. "Those who don't have a family member to be a guardian are provided with a guardian."

The group going on the trip meets each other at two events before the trip.

On the day of the trip, the group meets again at the airport in Duluth at 5 a.m.

"We rent a block of rooms at a motel near the airport for those who have to come a long distance," Swor said. "The veterans and guardians are responsible for paying for their rooms."

The veterans and guardians are served coffee and rolls at the airport by the Red Cross, then they board the plane. The plane leaves at 6 a.m. Breakfast is served on the flight.

"When we arrive at Reagan International Airport, four buses are waiting for us, along with a police escort," Swor explained. "We are taken to the World War II Memorial first. If we are really lucky, Sen. Bob Dole is there. He usually tries to be there on Saturday morning."

The tour continues to the other war memorials, such as the Women's, Korean, Iwo Jima and Vietnam Wall, Swor said. The tour also visits Arlington National Cemetery, where they watch the changing of the guard.

"That is a very solemn ceremony," said Swor. "We are asked to shut our cell phones off. It is so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

"Last year we laid a wreath in honor of a Duluth veteran, Durbin Keeney, who had died. Four veterans from our group had the honor of laying the wreath. We plan to lay a wreath next spring, too."

Many of the veterans have health problems.

"We always have two paramedics that go with the group and we always pay a doctor to go," said Swor. "If there is ever a problem, they are on board, but the veterans and guardians don't know who they are. We provide wheelchairs for those veterans that need them."

The group arrives back in Duluth around 10:30 or 11 p.m.

"Of all of the veterans we have taken to Washington, not one person has complained about the long day," said Swor. "For many, this is closure."

Swor remembered Niilo Isaacson of Kettle River, who was one of the World War II veterans who flew on the Honor Flight on one of the first trips. Isaacson was one of five crew members who had to bail out of their bomber when it was shot down during fighting in Europe.

"It's a great day," said Swor. "Every one of the veterans tell us they are glad they went. It really is an unbelievable trip."

Applications can be found on the website, honorflightnorthland.org, or veterans can get an application from their Veterans Service officer. In Carlton County, the officer is Duane Brownie and his office is located in the Community Services Building in Cloquet on 11th Street and Avenue B.

 

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