This was absolutely one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. Imagine being surrounded by the most sincere, appreciative and nicest people… 300 to be exact. I had the opportunity do travel with Beloit organization, VetsRoll, for four days last week to Washington DC. There were about 200 World War II and Korean War Veterans accompanied by about 100 assistants. We left at 5am Sunday morning on 10 coach buses and returned Thursday evening at 9pm for an unexpected welcome home that was ten times more extravagant than I imagined.
Day 1: We drove to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and stopped at the Golden Corral for dinner…Good thing there are a lot of buffets on the way out East : )
Day 2: We visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When the guide was telling us about what happened there on 9/11 I just pictured it in my head. The plane roared 40 feet above where we were on the buses, belly up, going more than 550 mph. It gave me chills standing there, trying to imagine what those people were going through in the last few minutes before crashing.
Once we got to our hotel in Maryland, there was a mail call to reenact mail call for the Veterans. Letters were sent from not only family and friends, but from schools all around the country. A school for the blind even had students write letters in braille.
Day 3: We were up at 3am to drive into Washington DC from our hotel in Hagerstown, Maryland. We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetary. Luckily it only rained while we were at the World War II Memorial! The rest of the day was sunny and perfect.
Day 4: We spent the whole day driving from Hagerstown, Maryland to Beloit, Wisconsin. About 3 hours from home, my team leader asked us four assistants to say something to the Veterans on our bus. This was when it all hit me that this might be the last time I will see these guys. During my time on the bus home, I sat with each Veteran getting to know them. I took notes on what their experience was like and what memories it brought up.
I really got to know not only the guys on Bus 6, but a few others!! Here are a few things they said:
“It’s really been a wonderful trip. I’ve really enjoyed traveling on the road, through the mountains…seeing the scenic things as we go along. My favorite parts were the Arlington Cemetary and the Flight 93 Memorial and being treated like a millino bucks. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.” -Irving Metcalf, 78 (Korean War, 1952-1954)
“There are people down at work I didn’t know were Vets and I’ve been reitred for 17 years. I haven’t seen some of them in 17 years! It was emotional to see Flight 93, my heart goes out to those on the aircraft. I’m really honored to be asked to go along with these great people.” -Dwayne Teigen, 76 (Korean War, 1953-1961)
“I’ve always wanted to go to Arlington Cemetary because I’m an airforce Veteran that served in the Korean War. I have friends that died in that war.” -Ray Watson, 81 (Korean War, 1950-1954)
“Five graduates from a small town end up on the same bus!? What’s the percentage that we would meet like that? Out of 10 buses, we landed together. You think there would be a bunch of war stories, but we are talking about our childhood! -Harold Bates, 81 (Korean War Marine, 1952)
“The most enjoyable part was mail call. I got a letter from Fred Beck that I was in the service with in 1952; he was on the WASP with me. That was the first letter he’s ever sent to me.” -John Wilson, 78 (Korean War, 1951-1955)
Aurthur wasn’t on my bus, but he was such a character so I had to get to know him!! I took quite a few photos of Aurthur…I could have listened to his stories for hours. “I woudln’t be here if it wasn’t for Harold Balllard. He volunteered to be my eyes because I’m blind.” -Aurthur Jacobson, 88 (World War II Combat Flyer, 1945)
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