Don Shuda never imagined there would be 10 Hall County Hero Flights when the first flight took off in 2010.
On Monday morning, Shuda said 164 people — 76 of whom are veterans — will be going on a Hero Flight to tour Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas. Of these veterans, two are World War II era veterans, 17 veterans are from the Korean War era and 57 are from the Vietnam War era. He added there are veterans from 15 Nebraska counties, Kansas and one from California going on the Hero Flight.
Shuda, who serves as the chairman of the Hall County Hero Flight Committee, said the veterans will meet at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport at 5 a.m. Monday where they will begin a three-day tour of our nation’s capital.
When the plane lands in Baltimore, Md., Monday, Shuda said the veterans and others on the Hero Flight will enjoy a barbecue for lunch before touring Fort McHenry. Later that evening, those on the Hero Flight will go into Virginia where American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., will host an evening meal followed by a night tour of Washington, D.C.
“We are going to make sure we stop at the Korean War Memorial at night,” Shuda said. “I think it is one of the most moving memorials at night. Then we will see the Jefferson Memorial, the Kennedy Center and some other sites in the Washington, D.C., area.”
On the second day of the tour, Shuda said the Hero Flight members will visit the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. He added they will enjoy a noon meal at the Fort Myer Officers Club in Fort Myer, Va., and receive a tour of some horse stables.
The Hero Flight members will also see the Air Force Memorial that overlooks the Pentagon, the Vietnam Wall, the Korean Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. A banquet will be held to honor these veterans on Tuesday evening, with retired Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman serving as the keynote speaker.
On the final day of the tour, Shuda said Hero Flight members will visit Arlington National Cemetery and present a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Four of our veterans will participate in the laying of the wreath,” he said. “We will also watch the changing of the guard there.”
In addition to visiting Arlington National Cemetery, members will also visit the Iwo Jima Memorial before heading back to Baltimore for a noon meal and flying back to Grand Island.
The Hero Flight will return to the Central Nebraska Regional Airport Wednesday evening and be welcomed back by community members at a welcome home ceremony.
Gary Quandt, a Hall County Hero Flight committee member and organizer of the homecoming ceremony, said the homecoming ceremony program will start around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the tarmac at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport. The plane is expected to land “shortly after 6 p.m.”
Quandt said he encourages community members to attend the homecoming ceremony. He said the airport will provide free parking in all of its lots for community members to attend the homecoming event.
At the homecoming ceremony, Mike Olson, executive director of the Central Nebraska Regional Airport, will deliver opening remarks. Mayor Roger Steele will also make remarks and will present veterans with keys to the city. Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac of the Nebraska National Guard will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony.
Musical entertainment will be provided by the Northwest High School band who will perform patriotic tunes. Pam Lancaster, chairwoman of the Hall County Board of Supervisors and a member of the Hall County Hero Flight Committee, will sing “God Bless America” at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Quandt said the Patriot Guard and the United Veterans Club Honor Guard will have a “gauntlet of flags” for the veterans to walk through as they get off the plane and onto the tarmac.
“For many of these veterans, it is a homecoming they should have had 50 or 60 years ago,” he said. “I don’t think any of our veterans will walk through the gauntlet of flags and not have a tear in their eye. It is just remarkable what the crowd does. For many of the veterans that have been on the Hero Flight in the past, they say it makes the trip as great as it is. This is the homecoming they deserve.”
Shuda said there is no cost to the Hall County veterans to go on the Hero Flight. He said this is made possible through donations and hamburger feeds at the United Veterans Club.
With this being the 10th Hero Flight, Shuda said the support of the community and area businesses have kept them going successfully.
“We could not have a better community than Hall County and Grand Island,” he said. “They have been so supportive of our veterans. That is witnessed by the attendance at our hamburger feeds. The support of the community is just amazing.”