If one is ever at a loss for faith in the United States or humanity as a whole, they might look to the Honor Flight Network for a little reassurance.
The mission of the organization is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.
Numerous veterans in the northwest Wisconsin have taken Honor Flights over the years, including Dennis Penzkover, who traveled to the nation’s capitol on May 4.
“I enjoyed the whole flight, and the people who turned out. There’s a lot of good people left in America,” said Penzkover.
Penzkover was drafted into the Army and served from 1963-65 at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri and Ft. Bliss in New Mexico and Texas. He did not go to Vietnam but served alongside many who did.
In recent years he’d talked with veterans who took Honor Flights, and decided to take one himself. The flights are free to veterans.
Each vet has a chaperone who pays their own way. Denny’s son Dan served as chaperone for his father and Richard Altmann, of Trego.
They arrived at the Duluth airport at 5 a.m., and were sent off by about 300 people showing appreciation with signs and flags, plus a band. They returned at 10:30 p.m. the same day, and we’re welcomed home by another big crowd.
The vets, chiefly of the Korean and Vietnam eras, carried excitement and rapport through the whole day.
“You’re in one big family when you’re a veteran,” said Penzkover. “Nobody slept at all—there was so much excitement.”
The group of 100 veterans were thanked and honored everywhere they went in touring the memorials and other attractions of Washington, D.C. People gave thanks and hugs. A guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier gave a more subtle gesture, dragging a toe briefly during his 21 steps. The group had police escorts everywhere they went, something reserved for few others but the president. Cheperones as well as volunteer health care workers made sure the veterans were comfortable, fed and hydrated throughout the day.
Appreciation continued onto the flight home, when the veterans got a mail call of letters from family, friends, school children and others.
“To a soldier mail call was the most important part of the day,” said Penzkover. “There wasn’t a dry eye on the plane.”
Penzkover the whole experience was so remarkable that he considers the day one of the best of his life.
“Every time I see someone wearing a military hat, I ask them if they’ve done the Honor Flight. If they no, I say, ‘You have to go!’”