Early in the morning Sept. 17, Wally Hobbs and his wife June arrived at General Mitchell airport along with 87 other World War II, Korean war, and Vietnam war veterans for the 35th Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., for a day trip to see the war memorials.
Wally Hobbs, a Korean war Army aviator from Thiensville, was scheduled for shoulder surgery right when he came back. He said he was "tickled pink" the scheduling worked out and he was allowed to go.
"It was a delight two days before surgery I could go," he said.
The trip, which was free to all, brought 24 World War II, 60 Korean war, and four terminally ill Vietnam War veterans to the capital city of the United States to visit numerous war memorials.
"They made every veteran feel like family," Hobbs said.
While the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight usually focused on World War II veterans, the program was happy to welcome more veterans along.
“The incredible support of our community continues to amaze us, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to honor 88 more local heroes,” said Paula Nelson, president of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “We will continue to give priority to our World War II veterans, but are so pleased to welcome such a large number of Korean War veterans. Many of our World War II and Korean War veterans have never really received any thanks or a ‘welcome home,' and it is our honor to finally celebrate them for their selfless service to our nation.”
Hobbs called the flight "beautifully organized," saying those running it were very alert, especially to the older veterans.
The veterans going on the trip were treated to the National Anthem performed by an a cappella group of teen quadruplets from Waukesha called Vintage Mix. The plane departed with a water cannon salute on the runway.
Arriving in Washington
Once the plane landed, all the veterans piled into five deluxe motor coach buses with a police escort and headed to the memorials. Hobbs had visited Washington, D.C., before but had only seen the Vietnam War Memorial. The complete list of memorials visited included the National Mall (World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial), Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and viewing the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.
He called all of the memorials "very impressive."
Hobbs described the Korean memorial as a black granite wall with laser engraved images of soldiers instead of just names. Being an Army aviator, he said he had virtually no ground experience, which was "the experience so traumatic to people." However, as he watched others at the memorial, he could see they were remembering that time.
"You're an observer, you can't feel what they feel, but you feel for them," Hobbs said.
Also at the Korean memorial is a field of soldier statues in various positions. Hobbs said no matter where you stand, there will be at least one soldier staring right at you.
"That gets moving," he said with a sense of awe in his voice.
Other than the memorials, one thing Hobbs remembers about the experience is the people. He said everywhere they went the people were "gracious."
"I hadn't known the depth of interest and gratitude the population holds," Hobbs said.
June Hobbs said she couldn't believe how many people came that didn't even have a veteran of their own on the plane. She described the whole upper floor of the airport being filled with hundreds of people lined up for the Honor Flight, saying they were "enthusiastic and genuinely excited."
She said she met two sisters who had a father and others in their family who were veterans, but their father had passed away. They were there because they know their father would have loved this flight and they would have loved to have done it for him.
When the plane landed the evening of Sept. 17, the Kettle Moraine High School Band and the Oak Creek High School dance team provided "entertainment and spirit" for the homecoming. A bagpipe band and the Greater Milwaukee Fire and Police Pipes and Drums joined them.
Hobbs had his shoulder surgery, which went well, soon after returning. He is now recovering.