By Kay Wilson
Dick Kiser, Barnard, and Gene Deptuch, Elmo, both Korean War veterans, will never forget the one, long day they traveled with their comrades to Washington, DC, recently on the Honor Flight.
The Honor Flight is a one-day trip that allows veterans to see Washington, DC, monuments dedicated to their service and other sights such as Arlington Cemetery. But the experience is more than that as these two men explained.
Kiser, who was thrilled to have his grandson, Jared Espey, as his companion, served in World War II for two years and then again in Korea. At the age of 18, he landed at the end of the English Channel and witnessed the aftermath of the German destruction.
In 1951, he served his country again on foreign soil in the Korean War.
Deptuch also served in the Army for two years during the Korean War. He was stationed in Texas for most of his service. His companion for the recent trip was Charlie Groniger, with the VA at Ft. Leavenworth hospital.
The day began in the pre-dawn hours for the two Northwest Missourians as they traveled to Kansas City International Airport to board a plane long before the sun came up. Along with the veterans and their companions, there was an extensive entourage of medical professionals and individuals to aid the 178 honored veterans throughout the day.
“The whole trip was great,” Deptuch said. “Such great people are involved with the Honor Flights. They are just plain dedicated.”
“Fascinating and full of big surprises during the whole day,” Kiser said of the experience.
While several of the trip highlights cannot be disclosed because that may spoil the experience for future Honor Flight attendees, there are several stops that can be commented on.
The sights included memorials for each service branch, Arlington Cemetery, Smithsonian Museum, the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and special greeters like US Congressman Sam Graves. The rainy skies didn’t dampen the day that included hundreds of flags, a police escort and a salute from firemen. Kiser and Deptuch agreed that the most touching salutes came from children.
“It set the heart on fire to see the young kids who were proud of us,” Deptuch said. “I, and everyone else, was proud of the kids having pride in the returning veterans. It brought pride back to us and reminded us ‘It is an honor to serve.’”
Espey said it was an honor to see these sights with his grandfather. Espey is a teacher Cole Camp High School and assists with coaching football and track.
“My favorite part of the day was being able to be around the whole group of guys and listen to them talk,” Espey said. “The memorials were all beautiful, but seeing them with the men they were built for made it more special. Also, just talking on the bus with Grandpa was great.”
His job as a companion required him to attend two meetings before the trip. The first meeting covered trip expectations and verification that companions could meet the physical requirements of caring for their charge.
The second meeting finalized the details and served as a pre-checkin for the airport.
Espey explained that during the trip companions are required to be with their veteran all the time and be sure the day is about them and not a sight-seeing trip for the companion.
“I would definitely recommend this trip to any veteran,” Espey said. “I would also like to stress that if any people feel that they can’t get around, so they shouldn’t go, don’t think that. There are plenty of people to assist.”
The cost is free for veterans and $600 for companions.
Deptuch summed up the day, “this is what America is, not what is shown on TV.”