Veterans Prepare for Honor Flight

By Mark Geary, Reporter

HIAWATHA - The Honor Flight program takes veterans to visit the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., free-of-charge. Now, a group of eastern Iowa veterans are anxiously waiting their turn to see the monument next week.

Monday night, veterans gathered at a local church to get some last minute instructions about their big day. The Honor Flight program will allow them to visit the World War II monument, Iwo Jima, the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Monument and Arlington National Cemetery — all in one day.

As veterans marched into the Honor Flight meeting, a crowd of flag-waving friends and family greeted them at the door.

"I thought it was wonderful," 89-year-old Frank Luchtenburg of Cedar Falls said.

In about a week, they'll be in the air and on their way to Washington, D.C.

"It's a nice thing to do before I leave this world," 83-year-old Stan Oftelie of rural Amana said.

Oftelie is going on the trip with his grandson, Daniel.

"He's going to wheel the wheelchair for me," Oftelie said.

Last November, another group of veterans traveled on a similar journey...visiting the World War II Memorial and a variety of other monuments and memorials.

Many veterans never thought they'd ever get the chance to see the memorial dedicated to their service.

"Some people tell me my name's on it. I want to see it," Luchtenburg said.

The trip lasts less than twenty-four hours, and keeps the men and women on the move all day long. No one's concerned about that, though.

"I think we're old enough to take it,"Luchtenburg said.

Most of the vets are in their mid to late eighties. Most never expected to board a plane again. But, they couldn't pass up the chance to reunite with their comrades one last time.

"There aren't many left. They're going awful fast," Oftelie said.

Even though this "Thank You" trip comes more than six decades after the battle, veterans say it will be worth the wait.

The flight leaves on June 22.
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