A sobering statistic flashed across the screen at Miller Park during the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Field of Honor film debuted Saturday night.
“One-thousand World War II veterans die every day.”
As the veterans pass, so goes the chance to honor them, to hear their stories and to learn from the Greatest Generation. But honor flights throughout the state allow for those veterans to be honored and appreciated and to share their stories with the rest of the world.
Honor Flights Touch Veterans
Martin Videkovich, of Caledonia, fittingly was sworn into the U.S. Navy on July 4, 1942, before he was shipped out to the Pacific. He recently had the chance to see the World War II Memorial when he went on the June Honor Flight.
For Videkovich, the highlight of the trip “was just being on it,” he said. But a small sparkle came to his eyes when he spoke about the homecoming at the airport where thousands of people cheered for the veterans and thanked them for their service.
“I was really touched,” Videkovich said. “I never expected anything like that, and I had my family there beside me.”
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Joe Hurst, of West Allis, described the flight he went on earlier this year as “beautiful.”
“I recommend anybody – even if they don’t go on it – just go and see it,” he said. “If you don’t go on the flight, go to the homecoming. That is worth it alone.”
Hurst served in the infantry for the Army in Europe until he was wounded. Hurst spent the next 17 months in a hospital recovering from his injuries, including the loss of a finger, skin grafts and bone grafts.
“That was the end of my fighting,” he said with a chuckle.
As for the film’s premiere?
“This is really something,” said Hurst with a big smile. “I knew it was going to be big, but this – man!”
Charles Glenn of Menomonee Falls was a young man of 20 when he entered the navy and served in the Pacific from 1944-45. He was a executive officer of the LC (FF)-53, a 'flotilla flagship' which basically island-hopped to help 'clean up' after battles, taking vehicles and artillery that were damaged, as well as 'collecting bodies' of fallen comrades to take them home. His service ended when the U.S. dropped bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which ocurred when his ship was on duty in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
"We got the news of the bombs dropping, and the end of the war being declared," Glenn said. "It took awhile to sink in."
He called the Honor Flight a journey that "filled me with such pride - it was awesome. The people who came to the airport were unbelievable."
'True Love Waits'
Don and Meta Larsen sat side by side in respective wheelchairs, a married couple whose ceremony would wait 44 years from the time they were first engaged. The Racine couple had gotten engaged in 1944 in Portland, OR, as Don was about to be shipped out. Meta returned to Wisconsin, only to eventually marry someone else. When Don returned home from his service in the navy aboard the USS Grapple, he too would eventually marry someone.
"We didn't really keep in touch over the years, but we knew where each other was," Meta said.
When Don's wife had passed away, and upon hearing Meta's husband had also died, Don decided to contact Meta again. That was in 1986. Three years later the couple were married.
"I guess true love waits," Meta laughed.
'Hunting for Submarines'
Bill Geertsen of Wauwatosa served stateside in Texas during the war from 1943-45. He was a mechanic in the Navy repairing fighter planes, and in his words "hunting for submarines.
"Really, folks don't know how close they were - in the Gulf of Mexico - so we had to be on guard," Geertsen said.
He said the work was tough, as 12-hour shifts were required in order to maintain aircraft in order to 'produce' as many as 100 new pilots every three to four months at the height of the war.
His experience led him to request to take a shot at flying during the trip out to Washington on the Honor Flight, he joked. He turned more serious, saying the trip was "tremendous and it was overwhelming when we returned home. There were two little girls who gave me flags and I saved them, along with the lanyard I got during the trip."
Waiting for a Flight
Richard Boehmke, of Waukesha, hasn’t had the chance to go to Washington, D.C., on an Honor Flight but he is on the waiting list. Having served in Korea with the Marines, Boehmke was greeting fellow Marines with “Semper Fi” outside Miller Park.
Boehmke was clearly pleased by the turnout and the event.
“I think they ought to show respect for the veterans and have more of them,” Boehmke said.