By Jan Rahn
Joining a few area veterans who have traveled before them, LaVern Poppe of Grant and Keith Nelson of Madrid are among those making memories on a Veterans Honor Flight this month.
Departing Tuesday, March 25, they are joining 460 Korean War veterans from 200 Nebraska communities in flying to Washington D.C.
Poppe and Nelson, both 81, are excited for the trip and are delighted to have found out they have someone to chum with on the trip. They are joining the single largest honor flight group since it was established in 2005. Poppe is recovering nicely from hip surgery in mid-February. They have no qualms about making the trip because there are so many volunteers who will assure their ease in travel.
The two veterans expressed their appreciation to over 500 donors from across Nebraska who made the trip possible. The flight will consist of three charter airplanes with a traveling party of 581 which includes volunteers and medical personnel.
Once in Washington, the itinerary for the veterans includes stops at the Korean War Memorial, World War II Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery for the Changing of the Guard, and the Air Force Memorial.
Taking Poppe and Nelson to meet their flight in Omaha are their family members. Poppe’s daughters Maria Eichner and Rhonda Menghini will drive him to Omaha. Nelson and wife Gail will travel to Lincoln, then their son Denny will continue with them to Omaha.
The family members will be guests at a pre-flight dinner for the veterans on March 24 with Gov. Dave Heineman as the keynote speaker.
While the veterans proceed to Washington the next morning, the 300 wives and family members remaining in Omaha for the day will tour Joslyn Art Museum, enjoy lunch, choose between movies, massages and manicures, be treated to a pizza supper and entertainment, then board buses for Eppley Airfield where they will take part in a hero homecoming with bagpipers and a band.
Fellow Perkins County veterans who have already made an honor flight to the nation’s capital include Vern Mailand, Clifford Sexson, the late Elmer Pankonin, and the late Kenneth Terwilliger, all World War II veterans.
Poppe and Nelson were both 20 years old when they were sent to post-war Korea. As a radio operator in the Air Force, Poppe was stationed in Korea for three months and an additional 21 months in the Far East. Nelson was in the Army and spent 18 months stationed in Korea as a heavy equipment operator.
Both veterans have lived in Perkins County their entire lives and continue their careers—Nelson as a farmer and Poppe as a farmer and owner of a tax preparation business.
History of Honor Flight
In 2005, the Honor Flight program was started when 12 WWII veterans in Springfield, Ohio were flown to Washington to see the new memorial. A total of 137 veterans were taken by Honor Flight to the memorial by the end of that year.
In 2006, nearly 900 veterans from other states made the flight to Washington. As the program expanded it became known as the Honor Flight Network.
Omahans Bill and Evonne Williams brought Honor Flight to Nebraska.
The Korean War Veterans Honor Flight—Operation Airlift, was organized by them to honor the military and remember the fallen.
They established Heartland Honor Flights in Nebraska in 2008-09, flying 1,500 Nebraska World War II veterans on seven flights to Washington D.C.
According to national Honor Flight Network officials, this month’s flight that Poppe and Nelson are taking is the single largest honor flight group in its history since it was established nationally in 2005.
The non-profit organization supported by donations, receives no outside funding. The charter flight carrying Nebraska’s veterans to Washington to see their memorial was first funded by Dan Whitney, a Nebraska native professionally known as Larry the Cable Guy.
Korean War Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
It was dedicated July 27, 1995 and commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.
From June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, there were 54,246 Americans who died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action, lost or buried at sea.
In addition, there were 103,284 wounded during the conflict.
The memorial includes 19 stainless steel statues approximately seven feet tall that represent an ethnic cross section of America.
The advance party has 14 Army, three Marine, one Navy and one Air Force member. Where the statues stand symbolizes the rice paddies of Korea. The troops wear ponchos covering their weapons and equipment. The ponchos seem to blow in the cold winds of Korea.
A two-dimensional mural adjacent to the three-dimensional statues consists of 41 panels extending 164 feet. There are over 2,400 photographs of the Korean War.
The mural etchings are arranged to give a wavy appearance in harmony with the layout of the statues. The reflective quality of the academy black granite creates the image of a total of 38 statues, symbolic of the 38th parallel and the 38 months of the war. When viewed from afar, it also creates the appearance of the mountain ranges of Korea.
The point of the triangle enclosing the statues reaches into a circular pool approximately 128 feet in diameter. Surrounding the pool are 28 linden trees shaped to create a barrel effect, which will allow the sun to reflect on the pool.
Seven benches, located under the trees, provide a place for visitors to rest and reflect on the terrible price the youth of America paid during the war.
A kiosk containing the Korean War Honor Roll stands at the west entrance of the memorial.