Honor Flights of Greater Dubuque send 180 vets to D.C. - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Honor Flights of Greater Dubuque send 180 vets to D.C.

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Honor Flight of Greater Dubuque is gearing up for two flights in May Honor Flight of Greater Dubuque is gearing up for two flights in May
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Two back-to-back Honor Flights in Dubuque this week will whisk a total of some 180 World War II and Korean War veterans from eastern Iowa to Washington D.C.

On Monday morning, about 90 of those US veterans gathered at Dubuque's Grand River Center to begin their Honor Flight journey.

Monday's flight marked the first of two consecutive Honor Flights of Greater Dubuque, out of the Dubuque Regional Airport. Each flight will carry about 90 veterans, each of whom is assigned a guardian. A number of medical professionals are also on the flights.

Cheryl Sheldon works at the Dubuque Regional Airport and is also one of the several organizers of the Honor Flights of Greater Dubuque. She said Monday morning only about a dozen of the veterans on each of the two flights are World War II veterans.

Jerald "Jake" Dahlstrom is a 77-year-old Korean War veteran, who lives in Dubuque. He chatted happily with fellow veterans Monday morning, as they enjoyed breakfast before going through the TSA security line.

Dahlstrom, a military history enthusiast, said he's honored to be going on this trip with World War II veterans.

"I admire those guys, and when I know what they did in Normandy and other places like that, Battle of the Bulge, they really did serve our country well," Dahlstrom said.

LeRoy "Chris" Reistroffer is one of those men. He's 89 years old now, but he was just 19 when he experienced history-in-the-making by landing on the beaches of Normandy, in German-occupied France, as part of WWII's infamous D-Day Invasion.

Reistroffer will be on Tuesday's Honor Flight of Greater Dubuque. Monday afternoon, he shared his story with KWWL.

"This here is Normandy," Reistroffer said, gesturing to one of many newspaper clippings he's kept from over the years.

He served with the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army.

Standing in his Jackson County house just outside Bellevue, where he lives with his wife of 67 years, Reistroffer recalled surveying the horrors of the invasion's aftermath.

"When we went up, you had to be careful where you stepped because there was so many bodies and body parts, so you wouldn't step on somebody," he said.

That was nearly 70 years ago, in early June of 1944.

Several months later, he found himself behind enemy lines in Holland. Not only did he live to tell the tale, but he also left with a souvenir.

"I ended up with the German flag," Reistroffer said, gesturing to the Nazi swastika-emblazoned flag that is part of his personal WWII memorabilia collection. "When I got the German flag, I walked all night, I think."

Reistroffer also has a robust collection of medals he was awarded, including a Purple Heart, for two injuries he sustained in the fall of 1944. His many decorations came at a cost, not the least of which are nightmarish flashbacks, which occasionally flare up.

He said his doctors told him, "that if you don't get real tired when you go to bed at night, you're going to get flashbacks."

But Reistroffer, who still fits into his uniform 70 years later, wouldn't change the past.

"Freedom isn't free," Reistroffer said, offering a reminder to future generations. "And if I had to do it over again, I'd do it over again."

One of his greatest rewards, he said, is knowing Americans are enjoying their freedom.

"We've got two schools here, and I enjoy watching the sports, and I enjoy watching the kids, and it's nice to see that they can run free," Reistroffer said.

Monday's group of veterans took off on a 7 a.m. Honor Flight for a whirlwind tour of the nation's capital. They returned to the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque around 11 p.m. Monday.

Veterans on Tuesday's Honor Flight have the same schedule, one day removed. People are encouraged to come welcome home the veterans at Tuesday night's lively ceremony. Organizers urge people to get there by 10 p.m., though there may be delays.

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