A visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, Va., left Jerry Edwards in a reflective mood.
“Looking out at all those thousands of headstones … there are a lot of people who gave their lives for their country,” he said.
“Why can’t people just get together and solve problems without shooting each other?”
The trip was touching for 82-year-old Edwards, who served with the Marines from 1953-56. He was in Korea a short time with backup troops, but spent most of his service in Japan.
Edwards and 79 other veterans from 53 Illinois communities traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of the 39th Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. Five World War II, 29 Korean War and 46 Vietnam War era veterans participated in the day-long, cost-free trip, along with their guardians.
In the group were 15 Air Force, 44 Army, 10 Marines and 11 Navy veterans.
Edwards, a member of the American Legion Post 210 Honor Guard, heard about the flight from a couple of members who recommended it.
He drove to Springfield the day before the flight, and the group left the Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport on a chartered jet early on June 12. When they arrived at Ronald Reagan National Airport, he said, “I couldn’t believe how many were there to say ‘thank you.'”
The day started out nice, but it rained later. Still, Edwards said, “It was a pretty good trip.”
He had been to D.C. in the past, but the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials were all new.
At the Korean War Memorial, he was amazed to learn that the South Korean government spent more than $1 million to build it, and that no United States taxpayer money was used.
The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was impressive, and Edwards was surprised to see a female soldier giving the commands.
“They’re really sharp,” he said of the guards, whose every movement is precise.
He was interested in seeing the Iwo Jima monument up close, but it was raining so hard that the buses drove around it. He also saw other monuments from the bus.
The group also went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which he enjoyed.
On the flight back to Springfield, each veteran was given a cloth bag containing dozens of letters from family, friends and strangers, and thanking the veteran for his service.
“I got more mail here than the whole time I was in the Marine Corps,” Edwards said jokingly. “I thought it was kind of neat to get all of them.”
He especially was impressed with the neatly-printed letters from children in Normal and Springfield schools. The letters had been arranged by his escort Lori Ozment.
Hundreds say ‘thank you’
When the jet landed in Springfield, the veterans were greeted by “at least 1,000 people,” Edwards said, including Gov. Bruce Rauner.
People showed their patriotic spirit with balloons, posters, small flags, red-white-blue clothing, and shook the veterans’ hands.
“I was amazed. I expected a few people,” he said, but not hundreds. “Everybody wanted to shake your hand, even little kids. It was great.”
Looking back, Edwards recalled that he wasn’t too excited about the trip at first because he’s been to the nation’s capital four or five times.
But, he was impressed with the new monuments and appreciates the trip now that he’s home.
“I think this thing of taking veterans out there is great,” he said. “They had it all fixed up pretty nice, and we were fed pretty well.”
He and others were given a copy of the book “Forgotten No More — The Korean War Veterans Memorial Story,” as well as a cap and T-shirt.
After his service, Edwards worked 28 years at Illinois Bell, and then opened his own company, Edwards Communications, retiring in 1999. In addition to the American Legion, he’s active with Danville Elks Lodge 332, and is a past exalted ruler. He and his wife, Geneva, have been married 58 years, and have three sons, two grandsons and one great-granddaughter.
About Honor Flight
Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, established in early 2009, has honored a total of 2,985 veterans.
It is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that receives no government funding or grants. It is able to honor veterans on these flights to D.C. due to donations, sponsorships, fundraising events, merchandise sales and support from businesses, individuals and organizations within the service area.
The next flight on Aug. 16 is filled; other flights are Sept. 13 and Oct. 25.
Veteran applications continue to be accepted, with priority given in the following order: WWII (person enlisted by Dec. 31, 1946), then Korean War Era (Jan. 1, 1947, to Dec. 31, 1957), followed by the Vietnam War Era (Jan. 1, 1958, to May 7, 1975).
Any certified terminally ill veteran should contact Land of Lincoln Honor Flight directly.
Also, because every veteran flies with a guardian escort — a volunteer who pays his or her own way — applications for future guardians also are being accepted. This may be any able-bodied person, 18-70 years old, except for veterans who have already been honored with a flight or a spouse/significant other of a veteran on a flight.
Included in the guardian fee are training, cap, T-shirt, round-trip flight, bus tour during the day, meals and snacks.
Veteran or guardian applications may be obtained at www.LandofLincolnHonorFlight.org, or by emailing John Dust at HonorFlightGuy@aol.com or calling (309) 339-0227.
People may visit the website to make a donation, consider holding a fundraiser, book a board member speaker or obtain more information on the Honor Flight mission. There’s also a Facebook page.
(c)2016 the Commercial-News (Danville, Ill.) at www.commercial-news.com
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