Local veteran takes part in recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

Honored to make the Honor Flight ... Bill Kerndt of Waukon was one of dozens of U.S. Military Veterans who took part in the September 14 Honor Flight out of La Crosse, WI. He was accompanied on the day-long trip by his daughter, Nicole Mills, who is pictured to the right in the above photo. Photo by Dave Larsen.

Kerndt among September 14 Freedom Honor Flight participants ... Korean War Veteran Bill Kerndt of Waukon joined dozens of other U.S. Military Veterans for a September 14 Freedom Honor Flight out of La Crosse, WI to Washington, D.C. Kerndt is pictured standing near the middle of the above photo as the Freedom Honor Flight group poses for a photo at the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. Photo courtesy of Dave Larsen.

by David M. Johnson

The majority of Americans have never served in their nation’s military and may have difficulty relating to the sacrifice made by those who have served. They may not be able to fully understand the trials by the few who have experienced combat and cannot fathom why anyone would put on the uniform that represents their flag and give up a portion of their lives for that commitment to serve.

In 2005, a group of individuals decided that veterans of the American Armed Services should be given an opportunity to be rewarded for their sacrifice by providing them a flight to Washington D.C. to visit the many memorials of this nation’s historical military battles; that journey is appropriately called the Honor Flight.

The itinerary for such a flight involves picking up veterans and their escorts from area airports, flying into Washington, D.C., and visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the 9-11 Pentagon Memorial and memorials commemorating World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After visiting the sites, the honorees fly back home, all in the same day.

The goal of the Honor Flight Committee is to give senior veterans, those men and women who fought in World War II, priority status on the flights. There are 640 veterans from this conflict dying each day and their numbers are dwindling at a rapid pace. There are 38,000 such veterans on the waiting list to fly out, and 222,000 veterans have already been able to experience this special event.

There have been a number of Allamakee County veterans that have flown on the Honor Flight, and a September 14 flight out of La Crosse, WI included one more. Korean War Veteran Bill Kerndt of Waukon joined dozens of other former servicemen and women and flew out of La Crosse, WI to Washington, D.C. in the early morning hours of September 14.

Kerndt served from 1952 to 1956, enlisted in the Seabees, and was stationed in Japan. He flew back and forth from Japan to Korea, with his main responsibility inventorying cargo on the many ships filled with needed supplies for U.S. Armed Forces.

Kerndt had been encouraged several times over the years to participate in the Honor Flight but just felt it was not right at the time. He decided the time was right now due to aging and his health was still good enough to enjoy the activities.

He was escorted by his daughter Nicole Mills, as a guardian escort is required for each veteran participating in the flight. None of the veterans have to pay a thing for the flight, but guardians are required to pay for their own plane ticket.

Arriving at the airport at 5:30 in the morning, instructions were given and then a rousing send-off by the crowd sent everyone on their way to the adventure awaiting them out east. Once in Washington, D.C., there were three buses that were used to transport everybody around the city with a police escort, cars and motorcycles. Sack lunches were provided for nourishment and Kerndt thought this was more than adequate. When all of the sites were visited, the group was flown out and arrived back in La Crosse, WI at about 11:00 that same evening.

“Everything was a highlight and nothing was a disappointment,” observed Kerndt when commenting on this memorable day. “It was a beautiful day and we did not fight crowds.”

Kerndt said he was especially impressed by the send-offs and the receptions that were all part of the event.  “There were little kids thanking us, other veterans, and family members in La Crosse, in Washington and again back in La Crosse,” marveled this Korean War veteran from Waukon.

After flying in and landing back in Wisconsin, the Honor Flight attendees were treated with evening fireworks. Kerndt is extremely happy that he finally decided to go on the flight and highly recommends it for others that have not had the experience.

The Honor Flights have been a tremendous success and will continue to be an inspiration for the many veterans yet to fly to Washington. In the 14 years of the program, a quarter of a million former soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines have added another something positive to a long and fruitful life. For Bill Kerndt, nothing gets much better than that.

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