Two area men joined more than 70 fellow veterans on this year's annual Flag City Honor Flight.
New Riegel resident Leon Steyer, a Korean War veteran, and Fostoria resident Alfred Brickner, who also served in the Korean War, were among 23 World War II veterans and 55 Korean War veterans to take the annual flight to Washington, D.C., June 4.
"It was an honor to be on the flight," Brickner said. "It was a good trip."
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLAG CITY HONOR FLIGHT
World War II veteran Louis Fulop (center) shares a war story with a Maryland resident during his trip to Washington, D.C. Fulop is shown with his Flag City Honor Flight guardian, Debi Schalk (center back).
Flag City Honor Flight Korean War veteran Charles Giles (middle) and guardian Doak Decker (right) share stories and camaraderie with other veterans from an honor flight from west Florida.
Brickner, who served in the Air Force from 1950-55, said the one-day trip gave him the opportunity to see the memorials and monuments of Washington, D.C., for the first time.
It also was the first time for other veterans on the flight, said Deb Wickerham, president and flight director of Flag City Honor Flight.
With many of the veterans too old to take the trip on their own, this year's Flag City Honor Flight gave World War II and Korean War veterans the opportunity to fly to D.C. for free and with a personal guardian.
"It's important for them to see the appreciation ... and the memorials that are in their honor," Wickerham said. "So they know that people really do know that they are the greatest generation."
The veterans, who first met in Findlay during the early morning hours June 4, were transported by chartered vehicles to the Grand Aire Hangar of the Toledo Express Airport. There, they had breakfast and boarded a chartered plane to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. By 10 a.m., the veterans boarded buses in the country's capital and began to visit the many memorials and monuments there.
Their first stop was the World War II Memorial, followed by visits to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Some then visited the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the Washington Monument, Wickerham said.
After lunch, the veterans were driven around the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Air Force Memorial before their last stop at Arlington National Cemetery. There, they watched the changing of the guard.
Around 8 p.m., the veterans and their guardians boarded a plane back to Toledo. Upon arrival around 9:30 p.m., the veterans were welcomed home by about 400 people, Wickerham said.
"This is the welcome home a lot of them never received," she said. "For many of them, this is the first these guys have had a welcome home."
Wickerham said Korean War veterans, especially, often did not receive the welcome home they deserved. Some World War II veterans even came home to empty train stations, she said.
"That was a nice surprise," said Steyer, whose family attended the welcome home ceremony.
Steyer, who served in the Army in the Korean War for about 11 months, said his son accompanied him on the trip as his guardian. Steyer said he had seen the memorials prior to the trip, but his wife suggested he sign up for the honor flight.
Although it was a long and tiring day, Steyer said he enjoyed it.
Veterans aren't the only ones thankful for the honor flight trip. Wickerham said strangers in D.C. often came up to the veterans, shook their hands or hugged them and thanked them for their service.
"For many of the men, they've never had that," she said. "They were just amazed."
Flag City Honor Flight, which took its first flight in 2010, is a hub of Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio, Wickerham said.
The decision to create a hub came after the list of veterans interested in a Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio got longer and longer.
Flag City Honor Flight, which is based in Findlay, is targeted to help Hancock County veterans and regional veterans make the trip to Washington D.C.
All staff is volunteers and donations fund the organization.
"Because we're small, we can only fly one flight a year," Wickerham said.
The fights are free for veterans, but guardians are asked to make a $400 donation, she said. Flights usually carry between 78 and 80 veterans and the same number of guardians.
"We like to keep it a one-to-one ratio," she said. "For a safe, exciting trip, it's better if there's a guardian."
Guardians can be family members or even community members, she said.
For more information on becoming a guardian or for veterans interested in taking a Flag City Honor Flight, visit the organization's web site at www.flagcityhonorflight.org.