Monday, Veterans Day ceremonies will take place across the country. Among those being remembered will be the more than one-and-a-half million Americans who served during the three-year Korean War.
Some of those veterans in Nebraska had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. in October to see the memorial commemorating their service.
The day started around 3:30 a.m. on a wet, chilly fall morning as 135 Korean War veterans boarded buses outside an Omaha hotel. For many the steps to the bus were the first obstacle in a nearly 20-hour day that would take them to see the Korean War Memorial, a monument to commemorate their service some 60 years ago.
Most of the men on this Korean War Veterans Honor Flight were in their 80s. They were dressed alike, in donated blue polo shirts, blue windbreakers and black hats – all with insignias letting everyone know they’re Korean War veterans. They had something else in common… They all were in combat.
(Photo by Greg Grosse, NET)
Twins Roger and Rod Aden of Gothenburg enjoy an early morning cup of coffee in Omaha before leaving with other Korean War veterans on their trip to Washington D.C.
Twins Roger and Rod Aden of Gothenburg also served side by side in Korea as medics. Rod said they saw soldiers wounded every way imaginable…
“They had limbs missing, hands, arms, legs. And they were patched up, but they needed a lot more work done to them,” Rod Aden said.
“It seems like you get flashbacks to stuff like that… You just wanted to forget a lot of it and it comes back at times, you know,” Roger Aden added.
He and the other veterans couldn’t help but think about those memories as they arrived at the Korean War Memorial. They saw 19 statues of soldiers representing different branches of the armed forces on patrol in a field. Each statue is more than 7 feet tall.
Reed said the designers of the memorial got it right. “They are a good representation of the soldiers that have been on the front line for a long time," Reed said. "Cause their eyes are straight forward. They don’t seem to be aware of any other surroundings as they come down the road. They really get wore out from war.”
(Photo by Greg Grosse, NET)
Bill Williams of Omaha, co-organizer of the Korean War Honor Flight, pauses during a stop at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Williams and his wife Evonne also organized honor flights for more than 1,500 Nebraska and western Iowa World War II veterans.
Bill Williams said when they were sharing the stories of those trips with a group of Korean War veterans, one of them asked him a very straightforward question.
“He said, ‘You and Evonne raised that money to take the World War II veterans and that’s wonderful, but when’s it our turn?’" Williams recalled. "The answer to that is it is your turn.”
Williams said raising the $85,000 for this trip wasn’t easy. Neither was sorting through the more than 550 applications from Nebraska Korean War veterans and choosing just 135 to make the trip. Among the group – 26 who were decorated for their bravery, including 16 Purple Heart recipients.
Bob Wallman of Friend was awarded two Purple Hearts. Five days after his 20th birthday, he lost his right leg in an explosion from an enemy mortar attack. He had been looking forward to the trip to Washington D.C. for weeks.
(Photo by Greg Grosse, NET News)
Korean War veteran Bob Wallman of Friend, Neb. lost his right leg in an enemy mortar shell explosion while serving in Korea in 1951. He spent two years recovering in hospitals in Japan and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“I never ever regretted it. I’ve always been respected for it," Wallman said. "And I still don’t regret it. In fact, I’d go do it again if I had to. If it meant protecting my family.”
Many of the veterans spent their time at the memorial remembering friends who never made it home. They were some of the 36,000 Americans who died while serving in Korea.
After a day touring all the memorials in Washington D.C. and watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, the veterans returned home to a hero’s welcome…
As a band played, family and friends lined the walkway in the Omaha airport terminal, cheering and waving American flags. It was a welcome home many of those who fought in what’s been called “The Forgotten War” never got 60 years ago.
“They’re going to come back and they will make scrapbooks and they will bask in the glow of it all and it’s something that they’ll think about every day for the rest of their lives,” co-organizer Bill Williams said.
Williams said they may organize another flight for Korean War veterans this spring, but everyone may pay their own way.
UPDATE Friday, November 8, 2013 10:30 a.m.: Co-organizer Bill Williams announced he received an anonymous donation of $90,000 Thursday. He said that money will be used to begin a drive to raise several hundred thousand dollars for a final two honor flights this spring. Williams is encouraging individuals, businesses and community groups to donate $800 to sponsor one Korean War veteran on the flight.
UPDATE Friday, November 8, 2013 1:45 p.m.: Bill Williams, co-organizer of the Nebraska Korean War Veterans Honor Flight, tells NET News he received a phone call this morning from the Theodore F. and Claire M. Hubbard Family Foundation of Omaha. The foundation will donate $200,000 toward two more honor flights this spring. That means approximately 300 more Nebraska veterans will make the trip to Washington D.C. to see the Korean War Veterans Memorial and other memorials.
Watch this video produced by Greg Grosse of NET featuring highlights of the Nebraska veterans' honor flight to Washington D.C. to see the Korean War Memorial and other memorials.
Look for more on this trip on an upcoming episode of “Nebraska Stories” on NET television.