Honor Flight: Veterans cherish memories on trip - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Honor Flight: Veterans cherish memories on trip

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Ninety veterans are back home in Iowa after an incredible day in Washington, D.C., Tuesday as part of the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight from Cedar Rapids. Ninety veterans are back home in Iowa after an incredible day in Washington, D.C., Tuesday as part of the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight from Cedar Rapids.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack spoke to veterans. U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack spoke to veterans.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley spoke to veterans. U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley spoke to veterans.
Korean Memorial Korean Memorial
Vietnam Memorial Vietnam Memorial
WASHINGTON, D.C. (KWWL) -

Ninety veterans are back home in Iowa after an incredible day in Washington, D.C., Tuesday as part of the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight from Cedar Rapids.

From the moment they arrived in D.C., the veterans got a hero's welcome.

The first stop: the World War II Memorial, where vets and their guardians were greeted by a color guard and Iowa congressional representatives.

But, like the playing of "Taps," there were also subtle reminders of what the trip, duty and sacrifice were of the Armed Forces -- fitting, ahead of Memorial Day.

"We need to honor the people that make it possible for us to be free, and we need to continue to work on that," said Mel Kiner, a Korean War veteran. "It's awfully important."

At each stop along the trip, veterans delighted in sharing stories of their service.

The three Kruckenberg brothers from Lowden all served in Korea and came to D.C. together.

"We were all drafted," Merlon Kruckenberg said. "I just missed the second World War, then I was one of the first ones from our county drafted for the Korean War."

Even after living through it, the brothers say the Honor Flight trip was quite a learning experience.

"It's really something to view the monuments and that," Kruckenberg said. "It's real interesting and a good history lesson."

LeRoy Forrest of Des Moines recalled being in his nation's capital once before.

"They sent me to Washington, D.C., to go to Korea, and I was on the boat 28 days," Forrest said. "It got a little rough. Then, I was in Korea 11 months."

But the Navy sailor and many of the veterans say being away wasn't all bad.

"I got to be battalion mail clerk, Headquarter Company," Forrest said. "Boy -- I had it made!"

"There was gambling all the time on that ship," added Lyle Swan, a World War II veteran. "They'd pitch blankets, so if it rained, OK, all night, all day. I'd see $20 bills fly off a fan table. I wished I'd shake them back out, you know?"

Along with laughs, there were a lot of heartfelt moments: from pauses while reading names of fallen comrades on the Vietnam Wall, to the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, or gazing up at the soldiers raising the flag on the Iwo Jima Memorial.

And on the trip, there was a recurring, touching sight: Total strangers walking up to the vets, giving them a handshake, and thanking them for their service.

It's something a lot of them say they never got when they came home from war -- and that left a lasting impression on the veterans while capping off a day of honoring them for all they've done.

"It really shows that our country does remember us," said Kruckenberg.

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