LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) – For the 26th time, veterans from 30 different counties in three states have had the chance to visit the national memorials built in their honor.
Saturday marked the return of the Freedom Honor Flight from La Crosse, which saw more than 100 veterans fly off on a day trip to Washington DC
Freedom Honor Flight serves veterans in western Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northern Iowa, and flights began in 2008.
“We’ve flown 2,300 veterans from La Crosse Airport,” said manager Pat Stephens. “The appreciation from the families and the vets themselves is simply overwhelming.”
The May flight included 97 Vietnam-era veterans, nine Korean-era veterans and a man who served in World War II.
The veterans were accompanied on the trip by volunteer guardians, as well as health workers from the Gundersen Health System and the Mayo Clinic Health System.
The day’s itinerary included visits to World War II, Korean War and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, the Pentagon National September 11 Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
One of the saves particularly struck veteran Mike Jacobson.
“The Vietnam War Memorial, I had two friends who were killed in that war,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson was also surprised by the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial, but said each monument had a different meaning.
Once the trip was over, the veterans were greeted on their return to La Crosse with a large welcome party.
Friends and family filled Colgan’s air hangar to show their appreciation for those who served this country.
Stephens says the goal of the Freedom Honor Flight is to give veterans the recognition that many have not received.
“Many of the soldiers who returned home were never welcomed home or properly thanked for their service,” Stephens explained. “It is us, as an entire community, who support them and say thank you for devoting part of your life to the service of your country.”
Veteran David Wolf was happy to see the respect the community has shown for former service members.
“It’s very good, and it’s really surprising because I didn’t know to expect that,” Wolf said. “When I got out of the Navy, it wasn’t like this because of the Vietnam War, but that has changed.”
Wolf and Jacobson say the whole experience was unforgettable, and they encourage veterans who haven’t been on a Freedom Honor Flight to make the trip.
“I have a friend, and he was a little embittered by the Vietnam War,” Jacobson said. “I’m going to tell him, do it, get on it, you’ll enjoy it.”
The next Freedom Honor Flight from La Crosse is scheduled for September.
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