After spending Friday and Saturday with our area’s World War II veterans in Washington, D.C., I was going through withdrawals by Sunday afternoon.
I had withdrawals not of the 90-degree heat in Washington, or of eating sandwiches on the bus — but of visiting with the men and women in their royal blue Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight T-shirts.
Staring at a blank computer screen Sunday afternoon at the office, I thought of Don Baumgard and the sparkle in his eyes as he talked about being chased out of Tijuana, Mexico, while on furlough from his California naval base. I believe he said he did the 400-meter dash in 10 seconds, though I better not say what he was running from. I’m never sure I can trust a man who winks when he’s telling a story!
I also thought of Jo Strubbe and Lois Widmark, who strolled arm in arm through the World War II Memorial. Strubbe of Jackson and Widmark of Ivanhoe became quick friends on our two-day journey and, by the end of Saturday, were already planning to get together again real soon.
I missed Eugene Erlandson’s constant smile, little conversations with Herman Hinders throughout the day and Don Hansen’s teasing about just how many hands there are in the Iwo Jima Memorial. (There was a bit of confusion because I mistakenly counted a thumb and a set of fingers as two separate hands. Anyway, Don had a good laugh about it at the time, and wouldn’t let me forget my mistake!)
I spent Sunday morning at the computer in my all-too-quiet house, wondering if our heroes of the Greatest Generation had a good night’s sleep and enjoyed their morning cup of coffee.
I began to miss their stories. Oh, I heard so many stories.
I talked to a woman who worked in Navy intelligence, a paratrooper who completed 37 missions, an Army man with not one, but two Purple Hearts, a Merchant Marine, a cook and a medic.
It was 21 years ago when I made my first trip to Washington, D.C. Back then, I was among a contingent of 4-H kids taking part in Citizenship Washington Focus. It had been my first airplane ride, my first week away from home with people I didn’t really know and my first glimpse of history that didn’t come from a textbook.
On this, my second journey, I was privileged enough to have the history lessons walking right by my side. I was honored to be asked to accompany our heroes on the journey to their memorial, and I feel a great responsibility to share with our readers the stories behind this amazing trip.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend two days with such a wonderful group of people. It was indeed an honor and a privilege to get to know them.