Honor flight touches area vets
After a whirlwind day in the nation’s capital, Korean War veterans returned to Omaha for a hero’s welcome.
“It was very impressive and people were lined up as far as the eye could see,” said 86-year-old Roland Lauer.Bands played and well wishers, including Girl and Boy Scouts, numbered 4,000 as three planes of veterans disembarked at Omaha’s Epply Field on March 25.
Lauer and four other veterans from Gothenburg and Brady were part of the last Heartland Honor Flight, one-day trips to Washington D.C. for veterans to visit national monuments and memorials.
In addition to Lauer, others on the trip were Don Anderson, Harry “Corky” Brown and Dale Stratman of Gothenburg and Willard Pearson of Wild Horse Valley north of Brady.
While in a snowy D.C., 83-year-old Anderson was struck by how many Americans were killed in different wars.
Brown, 85, described the Korean War Memorial, with its life-sized infantrymen in ponchos poised to fight, as outstanding.
“It looked very real,” he said.
Lauer was also impressed with the memorial, noting that the snow blanketing the statutes reminded him of spending time in Korea.
He also liked the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, a statue of the second-flag raising on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II.
As Lauer walked around a slope, he said it appeared as if the American flag was being raised.
For Pearson, just to see the nation’s capital and the sites for the first time was a highlight.
“I’ve never been too far east,” said the 82-year-old retired farmer.
Pearson got to Korea in 1954 after the fighting was over where he operated heavy equipment and built roads and other things.
During the Korean conflict, Anderson was in the Navy and stationed on the USS Corson where he was an electrician.
Brown served in the Second Infrantry Division and was part of a machine gun squad.
“We moved all over,” he said, noting that the terrain was rugged and rougher than the hills south of Gothenburg.
He carried a 30-caliber air-cooled machine gun and earned a Purple Heart after he was shot in the arm and chest.
After his release from the hospital, Brown joined the 25th Infantry and distributed ammunition from a supply facility.
Lauer, who belonged to the Fifth Calvary Regiment, was in communications and moved with a colonel and behind troops on the front line.
Lieutenants, who led their troops, were in the most dangerous position, Lauer said.
On one reconnaissance mission, he said a lieutenant was killed. He tried to follow the colonel through thick brush but was behind because he stopped to put a short antenna on the radio equipment.
A mortar crashed beside him and put shrapnel in Lauer’s face.
That incident earned him a Purple Heart even though the injury wasn’t much, he said.
The hoopla and well wishing that greeted veterans last week was much different than what some of the veterans experienced after returning from Korea in the 1950s.
Brown, who is originally from Lodgepole, was on a machine gun squad in Korea.
When he got off the ship in San Francisco, Brown was met by a man who read his name from a newspaper.
He then rode a train to Lodgepole, arriving in the middle of the night, and quietly climbed into bed.
“My mom saw my cap on the table in the morning and shook me out of bed,” Brown said.
Lauer got to Denver by train where his soon-to-be-wife picked him up and drove him home to the farm.
Pearson said he left Korea on Dec. 9 and arrived in Seattle on New Year’s Eve.
He went to a restaurant for a meal where he met someone from his neighborhood in Brady who was shipping out.
“He wanted to know what it was like in Korea,” Pearson said.
There was never a homecoming for Anderson who served in the military for nine years. However he met his wife in a church in San Francisco where he was stationed for awhile.
While in Korea, Pearson said he was shocked by the poverty.
“I remember seeing a kid in shorts with a coat on and it was cold,” he said.
Lauer described his Army experience as good.
“But I wouldn’t want to have to do it again,” he said.
Brown said there were comical and not-so-comical times.
He remembers two new, tall recruits who became scared in the night and stood up in their pup tent.
“They were plumb scared the whole time.” Brown said.
Anderson said he learned too much and remembers a humorous incident while on a naval ship near the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific, the deepest part of the ocean.
“The captain asked if anyone wanted to go swimming and told us not to hit the bottom when we jumped in,” Anderson said with a laugh.
The Heartland Honor Flights were organized by Bill and Evonne Williams who raised funds for the trips.