By Jan Rahn
For two Korean War veterans from Perkins County who took part in a recent honor flight to Washington D.C., the wintry scene was reminiscent of how conditions were when the war was fought decades ago.
Keith Nelson of Madrid and LaVern Poppe of Grant had a memorable experience that they will cherish forever, even if the weather was less than cooperative on March 25 for the more than 400 veterans over the age of 80 who made the trip.
Nelson seemed unphased by the wet snow throughout the day that melted as it fell on the plastic poncho he and fellow veterans were given for the tours.
Poppe said although he was not in Korea during the winter, the wintry conditions in Washington reminded him that it must have been horrible for those stationed in Korea back then.
There were three flights from Omaha to Washington, the largest group of any veterans taking the honor flight since the honor flights began in 2005 for World War II veterans. The honor flight was paid for with donations, sending veterans from 200 communities in Nebraska.
The veterans were scheduled to tour the National Korean War Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Air Force Memorial.
Poppe said the weather conditions and the age of the veterans made getting on and off the buses very slow.
However, he was impressed by the number of ground crew who helped the veterans at every turn.
They were everywhere, said Poppe, explaining that he slipped at one point and a ground crew member was right there to grab him.
Nelson said it would be hard to pick a favorite part of the trip, but he was very taken back and impressed with the reception the veterans received both in Washington and when they returned to Omaha about midnight.
“I wish we could have taken a movie of it to show people back here,” said Nelson.
Although he and Poppe did not see each other in Washington because of the number of veterans and buses providing transportation, they both agreed that the greeting upon return to Omaha was something entirely unexpected.
“It was the largest group of people I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” said Nelson, whose flight arrived around midnight.
When the flight returned and Nelson heard the bands playing and saw all the people he thought there was some type of event going on, said his wife, Gail.
“He didn’t realize the party was for them!” she said.
Poppe said his favorite part of the trip was seeing the Korean Memorial. He was impressed with a group of youth who were there—they wanted to talk to the veterans and wanted their photo taken with the veterans.
Loved ones who escorted the veterans to Omaha to catch the flight were entertained throughout the day and were on hand for a large public welcome late that night.
When the first flights returned, Poppe said veterans were met by 4,000 greeters in Omaha. He said his flight didn’t arrive until 1 a.m. the morning of March 26, yet there were still nearly 1,000 greeters on hand.
“I shook hands until I was exhausted,” said Poppe.
Nelson said it’s hard to express to people what they saw because it was so special.
“It was just super,” he said.
Congressman Adrian Smith of Nebraska’s Third District had been in Washington at the National Korean War Veterans Memorial to greet veterans.
“It was a privilege to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial with many of the men and women it was built to honor,” said Congressman Smith. “During a snow storm which kept many Washingtonians indoors, these Nebraska veterans were undeterred by the weather in the pursuit to see their memorial. I am incredibly grateful for their service, and to all who make the honors flights possible.”
Photos of the event will be posted after April 1. Visit www.PatrioticProductions.org to view them.
In a former story about the honor flights, some veterans were excluded who had made the World War II flight a few years ago.
Perkins County veterans who are known by the Grant Tribune-Sentinel to have made the flight include: Vern Mailand, Burle Newth, Clifford Sexson, Gerald Werner, the late Elmer Pankonin, the late Kenneth Terwilliger and the late Frank Terifaj. The Tribune regrets leaving out anyone who might have taken an honor flight.