Men share Honor Flight memories
September 17 was a special day for several area veterans who participated in an ‘Honor Flight” that took them from Dubuque to Washington D.C. The purpose of the flight was to honor their service during World War II and the Korean War.
Many of those veterans served in the early 1950s, both overseas and at home. The Korean War is known as the “Forgotten War” but it was all too real for the people serving there. We also forget that there was another “Forgotten War” taking place at the same time. In the early ‘50s, Europe was in shambles, many of its nations devastated by World War II. Communism was on the march, and had already swallowed up Eastern Europe.
Dictator Josef Stalin stood poised to take advantage of any weakness on the part of the Western Allies, led by the United States, and was threatening to further his advances to include Western Europe. The bulk of the allied forces facing a potential Soviet juggernaut was made up of United States troops, who guarded the approaches to western Germany and Austria. While U.S troops battled in Korea, those troops in Europe and in the United States were also ready to go to battle if called upon.
Among the Elkader veterans participating was Kenneth French. Born in Postville, French moved to the Elkader area with his family in 1934. He was drafted into the Army in 1951 and served in Korea as a radio operator and a forward artillery observer.
“The first night I was up on the line, we got hit by an enemy mortar attack,” he recalled. “In my mind, I could see the headline in the Register saying ‘Local youth killed in mortar attack.’ At any rate, I made it through that and the rest of my time over there.”
“During my time in Korea, I got to see a lot of the country and the way the people lived,” he added. “That was fine, but being up on the line was a pretty scary deal.”
The group was dined and entertained the night before they departed at the Dubuque County Fair Grounds. They received jackets, cameras, travel bags and caps before they left. Arriving in Washington D.C., they were greeted at the airport with people shaking their hands and thanking them for their service.
Touring the Capitol, they stopped at the World War II Memorial, the Viet Nam and Korean War memorials and the Iwo Jima Memorial. Other stops included the Air Force and Lincoln memorials, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“The changing of the guard was most impressive,” French said. “The Korean War Memorial was pretty impressive too.”
The whirlwind flight ended when the group landed in Dubuque at around 10 p.m. There, they were greeted by a large group of people, which included friends and relatives, at the reception center of the Grand Harbor Hotel.
“I really enjoyed the whole thing,” French said. “I’m glad that I and my fellow veterans got to go. It was really worth it.”
Following are three more perspectives on the recent Honor Flight trip.
Dale Hein was drafted into the U.S. Army in the spring of 1953 and served until 1955. When he finished his basic training, Hein said that a lot of the new soldiers were sent to Korea, but he was ordered to stay in the States to help train troops.
When he was discharged, he went to college for two years of undergraduate study and four years of veterinarian school. He moved to Elkader in 1961 and has lived there ever since.
“The GI Bill made all that possible,” he commented.
“The Honor Flight was a very good trip,” he said. At the meal the evening before we left, the speakers stressed that what we did back then was worthwhile, whether we were drafted or not. A South Korean professor was at the meal. He said that his father told him if he ever got to the United States, he should make a special effort to thank the servicemen that served during the Korean War.”
Hein said the trip was very well organized, and that every detail for the day was meticulously planned. “One of the more impressive things was the volunteers waiting for us when we got there,” he said. “We all got handshakes and hugs.”
“The World War II Memorial was impressive,” he said. “The background of that memorial showed farmers, manufacturers and all kinds of other people. It stressed that winning the war was a team effort.”
“For me, the Korean War Memorial was the most impressive,” he added. “A lot of people got emotional there and at the other memorials. It‘s out of the goodness of a lot of people that we were able to go on this trip.”
For Roger Koster, his time in the service was both figuratively and literally the “Cold War” period. Drafted into the Army on December 7, 1950, he was sent to Germany, serving with the 2nd Armored Division. “We didn’t have any barracks,” he recalled. “Remember, this was only a few years after World War II, and much of Europe, particularly Germany, was still coping with the destruction the war had caused. We slept in tents the entire time I was there, which could get very cold during the winter. I never slept in a real bunk over there.”
“We were stationed along the demilitarized zone and spent most of our time patrolling,” he said. “Our job was to keep an eye on the Russians to keep them from walking across Europe. One time, I was chosen to be one of a number of soldiers that greeted Eisenhower when he was making a tour of the troops. He was Commander-in-Chief of NATO at the time.”
“The Honor Flight was really great,” Koster commented. “There were people thanking us every place we stopped, and we got a lot of handshakes and hugs. You could tell that their actions were really heart felt..”
“We got a medallion signifying the Korean War,” he added.. That really meant a lot to me. It’s called the “Forgotten war. That’s the way it was, both in Korea and during the Cold war.”
Koster contracted tuberculosis during his service. It showed up after he returned home, so he was put into a VA hospital, where he spent 14 months. Because of the disease, he could not return to farming, so he went to Iowa State, earning a degree in Agronomy. He has been involved with land conservation since then.
Gus Lutz also served in Germany in the early ‘50s. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953 and served until 1955. “We were fresh out of basic training and were waiting for orders to head to Korea,” he said. “Then they called a cease fire, so I ended up going to Germany.”
“I was assigned as a cook in a topographical engineer unit and was stationed about seven kilometers from Mannheim,” he added. “We stayed in an old German Army barracks. Our unit made maps. The Russians always seemed to be up to something, and they would sometimes roll right up to the demarcation zone and then stop.”
Lutz said the Honor Flight was very well organized. “We always had something to do,” he said. “I must have shaken hands with about a thousand people, all of them thanking our flight members for our service.”
“The Korean War Memorial impressed me the most,” he added. “Arlington National Cemetery was also very impressive with its rows of crosses stretching out. While we were touring the different memorials, we ran into Carl Wessel, who with a different tour group. That was a real coincidence.”
“I would recommend that other veterans take this opportunity if they have a chance to go,” he concluded. “It was quite an experience.”
By Pat McTaggart, Freelance Writer