FRANKLIN GROVE – Franklin Grove resident Bob Glessner, 88, went on Honor Flight last week – one of only a few World War II veterans who did.
For the past few years, Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, which is part of a national program, has taken veterans to Washington to visit the monuments built in their honor.
At first, the focus was on World War II veterans, nearly a thousand of whom die every day in the U.S. Honor Flight organizers wanted to make sure as many as possible took the free trip.
Honor Flight of the Quad Cities takes about 90 veterans on each trip. The chapter already has taken many World War II veterans, so there are few left.
On the September flight, about 40 took part. Last week, the number dropped to 20. The rest were Korean War veterans.
Honor Flight now has 700 Korean War veterans signed up – a number that increases every week, said Bob Morrison, director of Honor Flight of the Quad Cities. It will take years for all the interested Korean War veterans to go.
“Our No. 1 priority is terminally ill veterans,” Morrison said. “I don’t care what war they were in. We’ll put them on top of the list. We have to have a doctor’s orders. We had two terminally ill veterans on the flight last week.”
The group plans five flights next year.
After the Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans will start going.
If an 18-year-old joined the Army in 1944 – a year before World War II ended – he would be 86 today. That’s a decade older than the life expectancy for men in the United States.
That explains the urgency to get World War II veterans on Honor Flight.
A couple of years ago, Glessner moved to The Meadows of Franklin Grove, an assisted living facility, with his wife, Elfreda, who died a few months afterward. Glessner can walk, but he used a wheelchair during Honor Flight.
Many veterans are encouraged to use wheelchairs because Honor Flight involves much walking – more than they are used to. Honor Flight brings along “guardians” to look after the veterans.
Glessner’s guardian was his son-in-law, Vernon “Butch” Burgett, who pushed the wheelchair.
Glessner’s favorite stop: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where he and hundreds of others watched the changing of the guard.
“When it started, you could hear a pin drop,” he said. “You could hear the guards’ clicking of the heels.”
The day lasts from 4:45 a.m. to after 10 p.m. – a long day for anyone.
As always happens with Honor Flight, when the veterans arrived back at the Quad Cities airport, hundreds of people greeted them.
“I had both hands out, shaking people’s hands on both sides,” Glessner said.
Shortly after his high school graduation in 1943, Glessner got his Army draft order, which he keeps in a scrapbook. He served in Europe before boarding a ship home in February 1946 – on the same day his mother died from multiple sclerosis.
Glessner returned home earlier than expected. He and his fellow soldiers had expected to go to Japan. Then, President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That ended the war.
“I’m alive today because of Harry Truman,” Glessner said.
He hadn’t visited Washington in more than six decades.
Taking the trip
Area veterans who went on Honor Flight last week:
• Virgil McCue, Savanna
• Donald Babel, Sterling
• Bob Glessner, Franklin Grove
• Ernest Topping, Dixon
• Howard Wiseman, Dixon
• Gerald Knodle, Mount Morris
• Melvin Berogan, Rock Falls
• Robert Bonnell, Rock Falls
• Louis Coulter, Rock Falls
• Roland Ebbers, Morrison
• Clayton Linscheid, Sterling
• Arlyn Watkins, Erie
• Bennett Watkins, Erie
For more information of Honor Flight of Quad Cities, call Bob Morrison at 563-388-3271 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The group's webiste is at honorflightqc.com.
“I’m glad I got to go.”