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Two Alexandria veterans experience Washington D.C., thanks to Honor Flight Network

This was the first of a series of honor flights from the North Dakota/Minnesota chapter since pre-COVID.

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Veterans participating in the first honor flight of 2022 from the North Dakota/Minnesota chapter visit the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. on Monday, May 2, 2022.
Contributed photo.
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ALEXANDRIA — Two Alexandria veterans and nearly 100 others spent three days touring Washington D.C. recently, thanks to the Honor Flight chapter of North Dakota/Minnesota.

"I've heard it many times, 'This is the best trip of my life.' That's what they say to me," said Kevin Mahoney, who recruits veterans from the Douglas County area for the Honor Flights.

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Don Kuelbs of Alexandria
Contributed photo.

The Honor Flight Network 's mission is to transport America's veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifice and their fellow veterans at no cost to them. Each participating veteran can bring one companion who must pay their way — which costs $1,100 and covers airfare, meals, lodging, and the ticket for the bus that escorts them around Washington D.C. These services are free for the veterans.

Steve Samek, 79, an Army veteran from Alexandria, and Don Kuelbs, a Marine Corps veteran from Alexandria, took part in the trip, along with nearly 100 other veterans from Minnesota and North Dakota.

A total of 45 helpers/companions, four doctors and several nurses, and 50 wheelchairs went with the veterans to provide support.

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Most veterans are from the Korean and Vietnam wars and a few served in World War II.

They left Fargo's Hector airport on Saturday, April 30, and arrived home on the evening of Monday, May 1.

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Steve Samek, left, and his wife, Karen, stand in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington D.C.
Contributed photo.

"We both think it was awesome. It was just amazing. They took such good care of all the veterans. It was just absolutely amazing," said Karen Samek, who accompanied her husband, Steve, on the trip. "It makes you feel good for the freedoms that we have here in the United States. And the veterans made that possible."

Karen said their three-day trip was eventful as it was jam-packed with tours of Korean and Vietnam Veterans War Memorials, the Lincoln Memorial , the Fort McHenry National Monument — where the Star-Spangled Banner was written. They also witnessed the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Steve said his favorite parts of the trip were visiting the World War II Memorial and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

They also saw:

  • Air Force Memorial
  • Iwo Jima Memorial
  • World War One Memorial
  • Naval Memorial
  • The Pentagon
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • Treasury Department
  • Agricultural Department
  • Holocaust Museum
  • Academy of Science and Air and Space Museums
  • Library of Congress
  • Arts and Industries Building
  • Kennedy Center
  • Museum of African Art

On Saturday, the veterans attended a banquet that featured live entertainment and a speaker before retiring to their rooms at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport.
Steve and three of his brothers — who are also veterans — were supposed to go on a trip through the network back in 2019 but had their trip postponed due to the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, one brother passed away and a second developed health issues that compromised his going on the trip. His brother Frank of Fargo was the only brother from the original foursome who attended.

Steve served in the Army from 1964 to 1966 as a stenographer for a two-star general.

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Kevin Mahoney

"All the Honor Flight people were very friendly. It was fantastic," said Steve. "It should have been a day longer."

Karen added, "Everybody was just so kind and considerate. I don't know how else to say it. It was just great."

An Honor Flight brochure for the North Dakota/Minnesota chapter says more than 1,200 heroes from North Dakota and Minnesota have been escorted to Washington D.C. since 2007.

Mahoney and his family raise money for the flights by selling flower pots over Mother's Day weekend and having other fundraisers throughout the year.

For more information on the Honor Flight Network and the application process, go to www.veteranshonorflightofndmn.org . Two more flights are being planned for 2022.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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