Two local veterans have just taken the flight of a lifetime.
Veterans John Moon and Bill Setser recently returned from an Honor Flight to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. There, they had the opportunity to view the many memorials put in place to honor veterans both alive and deceased, and to meet for the first time many others whom had also served, sometimes in the same war.
Bill Setser is a Korean War veteran who served from 1952-1956. During his service, he taught for two years as an instructor in jet mechanics. He spent his remaining two years as crew chief on an 84 G Aircraft.
Setser described his experience as “outstanding,” and said he would go again if he has the chance. He encouraged other veterans who haven’t made an Honor Flight to “get on the list.”
During the trip, he met several veterans from Peoria, Bartonville and Bushnell, but Moon was the only veteran he knew personally. He, Moon, and Moon’s son, David, bowl together. “But I knew lots of others by the end of the trip,” he said.
His favorite experience was “mail call” on the flight home — a time he’d always looked forward to while serving in the . He received letters from people in the community, his church and friends.
He was also pleasantly surprised to receive letters from young schoolchildren from several schools, many of them decorated with pictures of flags and personalized notes. “These are things you don’t think about, or see every day,” he said.
His said his experiences and conversations there “brought back a lot of old memories that I’d forgotten about.”
Honor Flight participants are flown to the memorials at no cost to them, typically also attended by one or more members of their family who pay their own way. Trained medical personnel are also on hand in case of a medical emergency. Volunteers both in the air and on the ground help make the event a memorable one for the veterans by providing meals, transportation, and receiving lines that can number in the hundreds.
The receiving line upon their return to Peoria is what former private first class and WWII veteran John Moon found most memorable, particularly “all the kids try(ing) to get a handshake from me,” he said.
Moon is probably best known as one of the last surviving veterans from the landing on Iwo Jima. As a member of the infantry, he was present on day one of the invasion. He survived the initial surge, and again survived two weeks in a foxhole while mortars went off around him.
His son David Moon attended the flight with him. He was also touched by the long receiving line, which lined either side of the aisle and included about 500 people, including children wearing fatigues.
It took them an hour to walk from the gate to the airport, David said. “It was one of those heartwarming experiences that a lot of veterans didn’t get to experience.”
He went on to describe several of the memorials they saw on the trip, including what John described as the “peculiar” Korean War memorial. This memorial is distinct from the others because it includes life-sized statues of members striding through symbolic rice paddies.
Mail call was also a highlight for John, who received about 200 letters. “You know how important it is to vets to get mail,” David said. “… It was a fun, emotion-filled day.”
The Honor Flight was initiated in 2005 by Earl Morse, a retired captain working with patients at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Springfield, Ohio, according to the Greater Peoria Honor Flight website. Morse came up with the idea of a volunteer program to take veterans to the memorials through talking with his WWII patients, many of whom wanted to see the freshly-dedicated WWII memorial but realized they and their families couldn’t afford to go.
The idea spread quickly across the U.S., making it necessary to form a network of Honor Flight sites. Currently, all but three states — Wyoming, Montana and Hawaii — are served by the Honor Flight network.
Reach Michelle Langhout via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @mlanghout1.
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