WASHINGTON, D.C. - Houghton resident George Fassbender marveled at all the places the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight took him and nearly 80 other World War II veterans from the peninsula Thursday and all the things they did in the course of one day.
Just when he thought the activities were over as he and the others waited in a Boeing 737 jet on the tarmac at Washington Dulles International Airport to make the return flight home, one more surprise was in store: mail call.
Each of the veterans received an envelope filled with notes and letters from schoolchildren, from friends and from family members, all thanking the vets for their service to the nation.
Photo courtesy Mining Journal, Marquette
Houghton resident George Fassbender reads letters during mail call in Washington, D.C., Thursday. Fassbender took part in the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight with 80 other World War veterans from the U.P.
"This is a big surprise," Fassbender said as he opened a note from a hunting buddy and another from his daughter. "It's just wonderful."
Fassbender, who has lived in Houghton since 1954, was a member of the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. Thursday, he joined a contingent of other veterans from all across the U.P. in visiting the nation's capital. The primary purpose was to visit the World War II Memorial, but a host of other stops were part of a busy day for the veterans.
"We're planning another trip for next spring," said Barb VanRooy, Honor Flight coordinator. "We already have a waiting list started for that."
Fundraising for the spring 2013 flight will start soon. The Honor Flight trip is offered to WWII veterans at no cost to them. Each veteran is paired with a guardian who pays to make the journey and sees to the veteran's needs during a busy, history-filled one-day trip to Washington.
Honor Flights take place from many parts of the nation, all with the intent of giving as many WWII veterans as possible the chance to see the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004.
After departing the Delta County Airport in Escanaba at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the U.P. Honor Flight not only visited the WWII Memorial, but also the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korea, Vietnam, Lincoln and Marine Corps memorials, as well as taking a bus tour of the city. The bus tour included a police escort, meaning the group didn't have to stop for red lights as they made their way around the busy city.
For the first time, some of the group visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The U.P. Honor Flight included five women WWII veterans this time around and they and some of the male veterans opted to visit that landmark instead of visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Augusta Houser of Iron River was one of the five female WWII veterans. She served in the Women's Army Corps during the Second World War and said this special women's memorial was something discussed as early as 1950, when the first WAC alumni association formed.
"I think it's fine," she said after spending time at the museum. "It took a long time to get it and I think they've done a good job with it."
In the course of touring the first stop of the day at the World War II Memorial, the U.P. veterans were greeted by both of their U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow, D-Ann Arbor, and Carl Levin, D-Detroit, who chatted with the vets and had photos taken.
"It is always a great privilege to honor Michigan's brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country," Stabenow said. "The mission of the Honor Flight Network is a fitting tribute to our veterans, giving them an opportunity to see their memorials firsthand. We owe all of our veterans our unwavering support."
Levin said, "I know it was a moving visit for our U.P. vets to be at the World War II Memorial. The memorial recognizes their service to our country and the world, and it was a privilege to be with them as they saw the expression of our nation's gratitude."
The flight returned late Thursday, where hundreds of people lined the tarmac to welcome the veterans home.
weather to greet the veterans on their return.
Included in the group was U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who shook the veterans' hands as they disembarked from the plane after a long but rewarding day spent in Washington.