Oak Park Heights resident Bob Rupp won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge and served in the Army 37 years, but he’d never seen the World War II memorials in Washington D.C.
“I’ve been to D.C. a lot of times,” he said. “But a lot of these memorials hadn’t even been built by the time I had retired, so I had not been to many of them.”
That changed at end of last month, thanks to the Honor Flight Twin Cities.
On April 26, Rupp and 76 other veterans flew out for an all-expenses-paid, one-day trip to D.C. to see the memorials.
“I got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and got to bed at 1 o’clock the next morning,” Rupp said.
But he’s glad he went.
“They’re worth seeing,” he said. “The World War II memorial, particularly, is outstanding.”
Bruce Burnes of Oak Park Heights, who also went on the trip, agreed the trip was worthwhile.
“It was moving,” he said. “It was very emotional.”
World War II veteran Charles Halberg of Bayport also went on the April 26 flight.
Jerry Kyser, the Roseville man who started Honor Flight Twin Cities with his wife in 2008, said World War II veterans aren’t a “touchy-feely” group, but the trip is powerful nevertheless.
“It changes their life,” he said. “It really does.”
It lets them know someone cares, and Kyser has seen men let go of their “survivor’s guilt” over actions they should or shouldn’t have taken and friends they lost. “Leave it at the memorial,” he tells them.
Kyser launched the honor flight program in the Twin Cities after being asked to do so by the national Honor Flight Network. The original honor flight took place in Ohio in May 2005, a year after the World War II memorial was completed and dedicated.
When Kyser had the opportunity to participate, he jumped at it.
“It was God-sent to me,” he said. “It’s my passion because I am a World War II-born baby. … My mother was working with the Red Cross, and my father was an infantryman in Europe.”
His father died of a heart attack at age 51, and his mother passed away at 71. Kyser sees the honor flights as a way to honor not only the living veterans, but also his parents.
“The most rewarding part is just the thought that my mom and dad would be pleased with what I’m doing,” he said. “They were my heroes.”
He also said it’s fitting to honor those who served, and time is of the essence, because that generation is growing old. This program allows many to see the memorials who wouldn’t otherwise have gone.
Both Burnes and Rupp said they probably wouldn’t have seen the memorials if not for Honor Flight.
Each veteran who goes on the flight is accompanied by a “guardian.”
“We treat them like four-star generals and four-star admirals,” Kyser said. “And if you’ve ever seen a four-star admiral, they all need a handler.”
The group visited various memorials, at each stop, people greeted them.
“You could never have put it together, all the crowds of people who were there to greet you, and they’d grab your hand and thank you,” Burnes said.
Another moving part of the trip was the mail call on the plane en route to D.C. Each veteran received letters from family or friends.
“Mail call in the service was an important event,” Rupp said. “My package was mail from my children and grandchildren and a few other people.”
Burnes also appreciated the mail call.
“Most especially moving was the letters we got from kids in high school and your family and people you didn’t know,” Burnes said.
Burnes says any World War II veterans who haven’t gone should consider it.
“You’ll want to make a contact while you still got legs and see if you can get in,” he said.
“It’s a great honor, great recognition for veterans, and it’s also a great opportunity to see all the military memorials,” Rupp said.
Although the honor flight heading to D.C. later this year is full, Kyser said he’s planning three trips next year. At a total cost of about $75,000 per trip, that’s a lot of fundraising, but Kyser said donations come from individuals, companies and foundations.
“This is a noble cause,” he said. “Who would not want the World War II veterans to there?”
Kyser, a Vietnam veteran, said that while his passion is honoring World War II veterans, he encourages the children of Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to consider creating a similar organization to honor their parents’ generation, and his organization would be willing to assist with logistics.
For more information about honor flights, go to honorflighttwincities.org.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]