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More than 100 veterans take part in Freedom Honor Flight out of La Crosse

Published: May. 8, 2022 at 2:36 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - For the 26th time, veterans from 30 different counties across three states had the chance to visit the national memorials built in their honor.

Saturday marked the return of La Crosse’s Freedom Honor Flight, which saw more than 100 veterans take to the skies for a one day trip to Washington D.C.

Freedom Honor Flight serves veterans in western Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northern Iowa, and flights first started back in 2008.

“This makes 2300 veterans that we’ve flown out of the La Crosse Airport,” Director Pat Stephens said. “The appreciation from the families and the vets themselves is just overwhelming.”

The May flight included 97 veterans from the Vietnam era, nine Korean era veterans, and one man who served in World War II.

Veterans were accompanied on the trip by volunteer guardians, along with health care workers from Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System.

The itinerary for the day included visits to the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the stops particularly hit home for veteran Mike Jacobson.

“The Vietnam War Memorial, I had two friends that were killed in that war,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson was also taken aback by the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, but said every monument was meaningful in a different way.

After the trip concluded, veterans were greeted upon their return to La Crosse by a grand welcome home celebration.

Friends and family packed the Colgan Air Hangar to show their appreciation for those who have served this country.

Stephens says the entire goal of the Freedom Honor Flight is to give veterans the recognition that many haven’t received.

“A lot of the soldiers that came home never had a welcome home, or were never thanked properly for their service,” Stephens explained. “This is us as a whole community getting behind them and saying thank you for dedicating part of your life to service to your country.”

Veteran David Wolf was glad to see the respect the community showed for the former service members.

“It’s very good, and it’s kind of surprising really because I didn’t know to expect this,” Wolf expressed. “When I got out of the Navy, it wasn’t that way because of the Vietnam War, but that’s changed.”

Both Wolf and Jacobson say the entire experience was unforgettable, and they encourage veterans who haven’t been part of a Freedom Honor Flight to take the trip.

“I’ve got a friend, and he was kind of soured a little bit about the Vietnam War,” Jacobson said. “I’m going to tell him do it, get yourself on it, you’ll enjoy it.”

The next Freedom Honor Flight out of La Crosse is being planned for September.

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