Veterans recognized in visit to nation’s capitol

Honor Flight guardian: ‘I would do it all over again’

Photos provided by Emily Lanhala

AHMEEK — When Emily Lanhala got back to Ahmeek after a three-day drive and her first U.P. Honor Flight, it was 3 a.m.

Instead of feeling ready for bed, she said, “the adrenaline kept me awake” at the end of an inspiring day.

Each year, the U.P. Honor Flight brings veterans who served between the start of World War II and the end of the Vietnam War to Washington D.C., where they tour national monuments. This year’s flight, Mission XXIII, took place on May 2.

Lanhala had originally asked to be part of the Honor Flight in hopes she would accompany her dad, a 12-year Army veteran. At the time, he did not make the list.

Last year, she applied in case there was a veteran who didn’t have anyone to go with them.

Photos provided by Emily Lanhala

“I thought it would be an amazing thing to do for our community and to help somebody out,” she said.

About a month before this year’s flight, she got the call.

As guardian, she’s responsible for looking after her veteran from the time they meet in the hotel lobby in the morning to the moment they get off the plane back in Escanaba. They ensure the veterans stay safe, don’t get lost, and of course, get lots of pictures.

“It’s a go-go-go type of day… just making sure that they have the best time possible,” Lanhala said.

After a two-hour guardian training the night before the flight, there was a meet-and-greet with the veterans. She held out a little sign with “Verne,” the name of her veteran. He served in the Navy for six years during Vietnam.

Photos provided by Emily Lanhala

“Verne came in, I shook his hand, and it’s like we became best friends,” she said. “Very very neat guy. We hit it off right way.”

The day of the flight, they touched down in Washington around 9 a.m., and flew back out to Escanaba about 12 hours later.

Stops on the tour included Vietnam Wall, Korean War Memorial, memorials to the military branches, and the Lincoln Memorial. At Arlington National Cemetery, they went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and watched the changing of the guard.

What moved Lanhala the most was seeing how many children came up to Verne and shook his hand.

“It put him in tears quite a bit,” she said. “I had a 7- or 8-year old boy salute him, and then he put out his hand and said ‘Thank you for your service, sir.’ Verne was shook by that; it’s nice to see all the appreciation for veterans, especially from the younger generations.”

Photos provided by Emily Lanhala

On the flight back, they did a mail call. One veteran got a copy of the letter his wife wrote to him when he was at war. Some veterans got personal letters from grandchildren, family members thanking them. There were also pictures and cards from children.

They arrived back in Escanaba around 11 p.m., where they were greeted by a crowd of around 300 people. For many of the vets, especially the ones who served in Vietnam, the rapturous response in Escanaba was the welcome they didn’t get coming back from their service.

“I refrained from crying all day until we got back to Escanaba,” she said. “They went through a lot of BS when they came back from the war and just weren’t shown appreciation. Just to see the community come together, it was gratifying. It was definitely gratifying to do that trip. I would do it all over again.”

Lanhala plans to apply again, and hopefully bring her father.

For more information on the honor Flight, go to upperpeninsulahonorflight.org.

Photos provided by Emily Lanhala


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