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Northland Honor Flight veterans tour memorials in Washington

News Tribune staff writer and photographer Steve Kuchera joined today's Honor Flight from Duluth to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans. Here's an early report:...

News Tribune staff writer and photographer Steve Kuchera joined today's Honor Flight from Duluth to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans. Here's an early report:

Mail call

On the flight to Washington, veterans were surprised when to receive hand-written letters from family, friends and schoolchildren from across the Northland. The event was reminiscent of the much anticipated mail call during World War II. "This kind of wants to make you cry. It's overwhelming they went through all this without us knowing," said World War II veteran Lorraine Larson.

Honor Flight guardian Kelsey Bauers helped organize the mail call. She said, "It's overwhelming the amount of love shown our veterans. It's probably one of the best experiences of my life. Seeing these veterans is overwhelming. My mother said I'd being speaking German now if it wasn't for them."

Arrival

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After the plane touched down and was taxiing to the gate, the veterans were honored with a water salute from two fire trucks. As the plane taxied between the two, each shot an arc of water into the sky and over the plane. Disembarking from the plane, the veterans were met by Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Hommel. "This is wonderful greeting the veterans. I think it's a wonderful opportunity to get these people out here," Hommel said.

In the terminal, the veterans were greeted by Honor Flight volunteers and the applause of people awaiting their own flights. Among those greeting the veterans were Nancy Konkel and Karl Schlueter, both of Milwaukee. As each veteran passed, they would shake their hands and say, "God bless you and thank you for your service." "They gave us our freedom," Schlueter said.

Added Konkel, "God bless them all!"

Among those being greeted was Leonard Archambeau, who fought in 10 campaigns across North Africa and Europe during World War II. "This is the first time in my life I have had such a welcoming. It's a wonderful thing," Archambeau said.

World War II Veterans Memorial

On the bus ride from the airport to the memorial, Lt. Col. Eric Hommel talked briefly about the controversy that the monument generated when proposed. He said some people questioned the proposed site, between the Washington and Lincoln monuments and near the capitol building. "The counter argument was if it wasn't for you, there might not be a Lincoln monument or a Washington monument or a capitol building. It deserves to be there and is there because of you."

At the monument, the veterans entered through an archway marking the specific theater of war. Many paused there to take pictures of the monument, much of which is set below grade. They then descended ramps to the monument itself.

Lyle Hocking of Bigfork walked around the base of a fountain pointing with his cane at the engraved names of specific islands he had fought on.

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Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa ... "That was enough," the veteran of the Seconds Marines said. He joined the Marines in 1942 when he was 18. This was his first visit to the monument, "It's an awful fantastic looking place. Some of that stuff gets to you." He specifically mentioned seeing the name of Tarawa, which was a bloody battle for the U.S. Marines. "The rest of them were no sport either, but that was the worst. It was hell."

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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