Local vets complete Honors Flights to the nation’s capital
In May 2005, the inaugural Honor Flight Tour took place with six small planes transporting 12 World War II veterans on a visit to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Ever since the inaugural tour, more and more veterans have taken trips to the capital every year to see the memorial.
This year, New Richmond native Gordon Mommsen and local resident Harry Oldenburg got the chance to see the World War II Memorial when they flew out of the Twin Cities on April 26, while Richard Sherber, another local resident, flew out of Madison on May 2 to see the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
“There were so many people congratulating us and just so many people there to greet us when we landed,” Oldenburg said. “The Marine Band was there as well. It was a quick trip, but it was a really nice treat and a good experience. Every veteran should have a chance to see the memorials if they can.”
The trip lasted just one day, but it was full of memories for all three veterans. To take part in an Honor Flight, a veteran just needs to fill out an application and be healthy enough to make the trip.
“I went to Washington a long time ago, but that was 20 years ago and well before the monuments went up,” Sherber said. “It was just great. It was a really good, once in a lifetime experience. I really enjoyed seeing the Korean monument. It was really impressive with all the lifesize statues of the soldiers.”
During World War II, Oldenburg was a member of the military police stationed in the Philippines, from 1945 to 1946. Sherber was a sergeant in the headquarters battery and field artillery group during the Korean War. He started as part of the Minnesota National Guard, but was activated on his birthday in 1951. Mommsen enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943 and became a paratrooper in the 5th Marine Division, where he was assigned to a mortar platoon. In December 1944, Mommsen was deployed to Iwo Jima and landed on the beaches on D-Day on Feb. 19, 1945, on his 20th birthday.
“One comment I heard most often was how surprised they were by all the people that walked up to them, shook their hand and thanked them for their service to our country,” said Mommsen’s guardian Sheila Hill. “The welcome they received when arriving at the airport in D.C. Visiting with each other and sharing common memories of the places where they fought/served. It is an overwhelming experience.”
At one point during each of the Honor Flights, the veterans get to experience mail call again like they did when they were still in the military. In addition to receiving letters from family and friends, the three veterans also received letters from middle school students. Mommsen received letters from New Richmond Middle School students, while Oldenburg received letters from his granddaughter’s class at St. Croix Central Middle School.
“My granddaughter’s whole seventh-grade class wrote me letters, all 33 of them,” Oldenburg said. “It was really interesting to read the letters from those 12-year-olds.”
Sherber received his mail call on the way home after a long day of sightseeing and still had many letters left to read once he made it back home to New Richmond.
“It was really nice to get the letters and seeing letters from fourth-graders on up,” Sherber said. “They said a lot of nice things and thanked me for my service.”
As many people as there were to greet the veterans when they arrived in Washington, D.C., there were also hundreds of people waiting to greet them as they arrived back home after their long day.
“There were so many people there to greet us when we got back too,” Oldenburg said. “You would have thought we had just won the war the way all those people were going on and thanking us and shaking our hands. It was crazy. It was a great experience.”