The Flight of a Lifetime
by Guy Thompson
On April 26, Middlebury veteran Roger Schrock was one of 84 veterans who flew on an Honor Flight from the Ft. Wayne airport to Washington, D.C., a unique opportunity that gives veterans a chance to see the various war memorials in the nation’s capital.
This was the 23rd Honor Flight to fly out of Ft. Wayne, taking WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans to D.C. for a whirlwind, single-day adventure. Schrock served in the U.S. Air Force for four years, stationed in Japan following the Korean War, and was one of 56 Korean War veterans on April’s flight. There were 21 WWII veterans and six from the Vietnam War.
Korean War Veteran
Schrock first served in the Indiana National Guard in the early 1950s, which kept him in the area, working at Miles Laboratories in Elkhart. However, “working at Miles, I was on swing shift and missed the weekly meetings to stay exempt from the draft,” Schrock said. He got a call from the draft board saying they were sending him an “invitation,” so he decided to get ahead of them and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953.
He was trained in communications and was deployed to Jagoya, Japan, where he oversaw the communications facilities office at the Air Force base, in charge of communications between Korea and Japan, as the war was coming to an end.
He returned to the states, stationed in New Mexico, and was discharged in 1957, earning a Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the U.N. Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal. He also received a letter of commendation from his commanding officer at the time, full of praise for his work. Schrock still has that letter, along with other memorabilia from his time in the U.S. Air Force.
Schrock waited about a year and a half to take the Honor Flight trip, with his son Jeffery going as his guardian. Each veteran has a guardian – a relative or friend – who helps the veteran get around, if needed, and is there for support throughout the long day.
The day began with a 6 a.m. breakfast at the Ft. Wayne airport. The group boarded a chartered American Airlines flight to Reagan National Airport, where they were welcomed with a water cannon salute. The group loaded up on four tour buses and, with a police escort, headed into Washington, D.C.
“I was looking forward to seeing the Korean War Memorial and the changing of the guard,” Schrock said. This was his first opportunity to see the Washington, D.C., monuments.
The group traveled to the WWII Memorial first, getting a group photo and touring the area, before going on to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. Schrock was thrilled to see the Korean War Memorial in person. “They look like they were out on a rainy day,” he said. The guides filled veterans in on details in the monuments that may have been missed, such as pointing out which statues in the Korean War Memorial represented the different branches of service. “All of them but one was wearing a steel helmet,” Schrock noted. “The one without was the one for the Air Force.”
There was also a monument for the Vietnam nurses, a memorial Schrock didn’t know about before the tour.
From there, they traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard. “That was something to see,” Schrock stated. He marveled at the precision and dedication shown by the soldiers who volunteer to be the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
They also did a bus tour of other sites around the capital city before heading back to the airport.
At the airport, they were greeted by a group of dancers who portray WWII-era music and dancing. Then, during the flight back home, each veteran was presented with a mail bag – a “mail call” for each veteran – with letters from friends, family, and even their U.S. Representative and Gov. Holcomb.
Arriving back in Ft. Wayne that evening, they were greeted by a couple of thousand well-wishers. “The line at the airport just didn’t stop,” Schrock said. It was a great way to end an amazing day.
Along with the chance to see the memorials, Schrock also had the opportunity to meet and talk with other veterans. “We had the chance to listen to other stories from other vets,” he said. “It gave us a different perspective on our time in the service.”
Schrock recommends the trip for other veterans and “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
The idea behind Honor Flight, which began in Ohio in 2005, is to allow veterans to see the memorials dedicated to them and their fellow servicemen and women. Priority is given to WWII veterans, as over 600 pass away each day.
Earl Morse, a physician’s assistant and retired U.S. Air Force Captain in Springfield, Ohio, listened to veterans he worked with talk about how they wanted to go to the newly opened WWII Memorial, but it was clear that they would have trouble making the trip for financial or health reasons.
Morse was also a pilot and conceived the idea to fly WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their monument. Fellow pilots quickly volunteered and they made plans to fly veterans to the nation’s capital, at no expense to the veterans, and spend the day taking them around the city.
The idea quickly spread around the country and today there are 127 “hubs” in 41 states.
To date, the Honor Flight program has transported more than 98,500 veterans to Washington, D.C.
Honor Flight Northeast Indiana works to fly area veterans on several Honor Flights each year. Everyone who works with Honor Flight are volunteers – there are no paid administrators with the program, and all donations go to ensure that there is never any cost to the veterans who fly. Guardians pay a donation to cover their costs.
More information on Honor Flight Northeast Indiana can be found at www.hfnei.org.