Honor Flights deliver priceless memories
When Len Schreiber learned he was being called to serve, he was quick to marry his long-time girlfriend Evy. He spent a mere five days with his new bride before the 21-year-old had to leave life as he knew it for the military and the Korean War.
"I should have never come home. There were so many times I barely escaped with my life. But I did," Schreiber, now 88, said. "Those kinds of incidents are hard to get out of your mind. I can see it today, I can hear rounds going off. It was a long time ago, but it's there."
Schreiber stayed in Korea for 11 months, serving as a staff sergeant with the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in the U.S. Army. Though the end of the war brought peace, with it came hearing loss, post-traumatic stress, and terrible memories for Schreiber, who lives in Alexandria.
For many other veterans experiencing similar post-war effects, one thing that can bring peace is closure. Enter the Twin Cities Honor Flight Network, which transports veterans to Washington, D.C., for one day to visit the nation's war memorials.
The Ohio-based Honor Flight Network transports Korean and World War II veterans to visit their memorials regardless of age or income. The organization now serves 45 states including Minnesota and has flown more than 180,000 veterans to the nation's capital since its first flight in 2005.
On May 6, the Twin Cities division of the organization celebrated its 17th run, with one grateful Len Schreiber on board.
"Getting back to the memorials was such a breathtaking experience for me because you cannot comprehend that experience unless you've seen it," Schreiber marveled. "What a trip. I will remember it the rest of my life."
The Twin Cities Honor Flight division was created by Jerry Kyser and his wife Jana in 2008. Twice a year, the non-profit organization flies a plane full of guardians and veterans to Washington, D.C., for the afternoon.
The day for the veterans, Kyser said, is a busy one. After boarding an early-morning flight, the honorees open "z-mail," or letters from their family and friends modeled after the ones they received in the war. Within hours, they arrive to a warm welcome from hundreds of D.C. residents, choirs and bands. From there the group is taken by bus and police escort to all the World War II and Korean War memorials the city has to offer, stopping only to eat or take photos. The day concludes with a ceremony honoring those whose lives were lost in the wars.
"Everywhere we went there were people. And I'm not talking hundreds, I'm talking thousands of people that were there to honor and welcome the veterans. You couldn't keep your eyes from tearing because it was too emotional. It was so great," Schreiber reminisced.
Making the trip even more priceless to Schreiber was having his two grandsons by his side. His grandson Brandon Miller flew in from Missouri to accompany his grandfather as a guardian, and the other, Spencer Brown - a D.C. resident - met the two at the gate.
"So now I had a grandson on each arm, which was really wonderful," Schreiber marveled.
The end of the big day, Schreiber explained, was just as exciting as it started.
"If you didn't witness it you couldn't believe it happened. In the airport in Minneapolis when we landed it was 10 p.m. That night I just thought we were going to get off this plane and some of our children would be there to pick us up. What I didn't know is that they were all there with their siblings."
Schreiber, along with all of the other veterans, was welcomed home at the airport corridor by hundreds of volunteers, band members, cheerleaders, and family members.
"They all came down and it was nothing but hugs, music, and bands. Oh my gosh, it was overwhelming. I have never experienced anything in my life like that," Schreiber said.
Jerry Kyser vows the flights won't stop anytime soon.
"As long as the money keeps coming in, we'll do it, and we've never had any trouble with that," Kyser said. "The good Lord Jesus does my fundraising. We just cash the checks. So far it's totaled over $1.5 million dollars."
For more information about Honor Flight, visit honorflighttwincities.org, or contact the Kysers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-481-8835. World War II veterans will receive priority due to the aging population.