By Sterling McGinn

In May of 2017, I had the privilege to accompany my Korean War Veteran grandfather, Rolland Rieger, and 70 more veterans on Mission XII of the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight.

It is a trip I will never forget, and the experience is difficult to put into words. Unless you have participated in the flight, you truly can’t imagine the gratitude that is shown to these veterans.

It was also great to experience the trip with other Newberry area residents. Veterans Bob and Jim Goldthorpe, Rodney Richards, Harold Dishaw, and the late Jim Foley, accompanied by their children, were also on-board Mission XII.

My grandfather just died at the age of 91 and at the same time, the Newberry Fire Department donated $2,500 to Honor Flight. I never thought I would be able to write my true feelings of that surreal day but with all that’s happened recently, I feel it’s time I try.

For those who are not familiar with the Honor Flight Network, the organization is dedicated solely to honoring our nation’s veterans.

Upper Peninsula Honor Flight is part of 128 hubs of the organization that has taken over 245,000 veterans from across the nation.

The one-day flight brings the military heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their honor. For the last 11 years, Upper Peninsula Honor Flight has allowed for hundreds of U.P. veterans to go to Washington D.C.

My grandfather served in the United States Army and was stationed in Korea. He never considered himself a hero, but an individual who set aside his daily duties to answer his country’s call. I don’t think he was very interested when he was first offered the flight, but eventually agreed to go. After being signed up, he suffered some major health issues delaying him going for a while. Although he never fully recovered, we were set to go in the spring of 2017.

I don’t want to spoil the experience for veterans who haven’t participated yet, but I want to share several memorable moments to encourage more veterans to take the opportunity to go on the flight,

First, the people who volunteer for the organization are kind, welcoming, and friendly. They truly know how to treat the veterans and their guardians.

When we arrived in Washington, D.C., I discovered my grandpa’s medications fell out of their organizers and were mixed in the bottom of the carry-on bag. A nurse quickly reviewed his medication list and put the pills back in the right containers wrapping them in medical tape.

Although I was embarrassed by the situation, the nurse was very caring and assured me that this had happened before.

There were several high school class trips visiting the memorials and monuments when we were there. I was very impressed with the attention they showed to the veterans. As I pushed my grandpa in a wheelchair, we were continually stopped so school children of all ages could shake his hand and say, “Thank you sir, for your service to our country.”

Endless applause echoed in the busy airport as the veterans were escorted to and from the terminals.

I also remember Harold Dishaw viewing the name of his friend, Jim Caudell, on the Vietnam Wall, and heard other veterans reflecting on the memories of their fallen comrades.

I don’t think there is an experience in my life that tops going on the honor flight with my grandpa. It was a long day, but well worth it.

My grandpa is gone now, but no one can take away the memories we shared that day.

The Honor Flight Network is truly an amazing organization, and their commitment to honoring veterans is outstanding.

If you have a veteran in your family who qualifies for this trip, please encourage their participation so you, too, can share this experience with them.

With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, please take the opportunity to thank veterans for their service. It’s never too late.