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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Area WWII vets enjoy a special day in D.C.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

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Cherokee County WWII veterans (left to right) Wayne Gaston, Orville Tapper, Dale Wester and Merlin Delperdag in Washington, D.C. Photo contributed.
Kay Jipp of Aurelia read an article in the "American Profile" newspaper supplement last year that piqued her interest and led to a memorable adventure for Kay, her dad, Wayne Gaston, and several other people from Cherokee County.

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Dale Wester, "Guardian" Kay Jipp, and Wayne Gaston, prior to their take-off for Washington, D.C. from Sioux Gateway Airport on Sept. 9, 2008. The guys are wearing special "Honor Flight" caps and polo shirts which were presented to them at a Sept. 7 banquet. Photo contributed.
The article concerned Earl Morse, who was working as a Physician's Assistant at a Department of Veteran's Affairs medical clinic in Springfield, Ohio and asked one of his patents, a 78-year-old WWII veteran, if he had ever visited the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. The man shook his head sadly and said there was no way he could afford to go. As it turned out, Morse, a licensed pilot and former U.S. Air Force captain, had just rented a private plane and was going to fly his father, a Vietnam War veteran, to D.C. to see the Vietnam War Memorial. He asked the patient if he'd like to go along and said it wouldn't cost him a penny. From that spur-of-the-moment question great things soon sprang.

Morse soon began flying groups of the diminishing WWII veterans to view the magnificent tribute to that war and the soldiers who fought it. He founded the Honor Flight Network in 2005, and since that time, literally thousands of vets have taken the trip -- and it still doesn't cost them a penny.

Kay Jipp thought that such a trip would be a wonderful experience for her father Wayne Gaston, a WWII veteran, and she started researching the Honor Flight, which, at the time of the "American Profile" article, was active in 11 states and had a waiting list of 1,500 veterans. Since then, Honor Flight has expanded to include 30 hubs around the country, run almost entirely by volunteers.

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Iowa Senator Charles Grassley (left) greets Wayne Gaston (center) and Dale Wester (right) at their Honor Flight Day in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 9. Photo contributed.
Kay got a copy of the application for the Honor Flight off of the Internet and took it to her dad. They filled it out, signed it and sent it in. After not hearing anything back, Kay caught a phone number on the television news and called it. Her call resulted in the news that Wayne was indeed on the waiting list. Unbeknownst to them at the time, several other Cherokee County WWII vets had also applied for the trip and they, too, were on the waiting list. Milton Delperdang of Marcus has a brother-in-law who works at the VA Office and he obtained applications for Milton and his friend Orville Tapper, which they completed and sent in. Dale Wester of Cherokee was also on the list.

Another Siouxland area resident, Cathy Mueller of Sioux City, had also read about the Honor Flight in the "American Profile" supplement and looked into starting an Honor Flight from Sioux City. Like Kay Jipp, Mueller thought it would be a great thing for her dad, Warren Mueller of Kingsley, also a WWII vet, to experience. Mueller organized a Siouxland Honor Flight group at the suggestion of a Nebraska group based in Omaha, which didn't have enough room to take on any more potential Honor Flight passengers from Iowa.

With the assistance of several people who helped her with the paperwork and fundraising, the Siouxland Honor Flight was organized and their first trip to the WWII Memorial was scheduled for September 9, 2008. Over $90,000 had been raised through fundraisers and donations to fly the 101 veterans --including the Cherokee County contingent - and 50 guardians to Washington, and on September 7, the Honor Flight passengers were treated to a banquet at the Marina Inn in South Sioux City.

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"The Andrews Sisters" pose with Wayne Gaston at the banquet held at The Marina Inn on Sept. 7th, prior to the Honor Flight. Gaston said he saw the REAL Andrews Sisters perform when he was in the service during WWII. Photo contributed.
In addition to a great meal, the vets were treated to entertainment by a group of performers dressed like the Andrews Sisters, who sang some of the famous songs of the WWII era, and they were also provided with gifts for their trip by Humana and Hy-Vee -- a camera for each veteran, along with polo shirts and ball caps marking the occasion of the flight. They were also presented with lanyards, representing the branch of the service in which each had served.

Of the Cherokee County group of veterans, Delperdang served in the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific; Wester served in the Air Corps and was a turret gunner on a B-29, based on a Pacific island; and Tapper and Gaston (who at age 92 was the oldest passenger on the Honor Flight) both served in the Army. Gaston was a mechanic, and was stationed in North Africa and Italy during the war.

All of the money for the trip was raised by private donations and the guardians were told several times that they were not to let the veterans spend a cent. The group flew out of Sioux Gateway Airport at 7 a.m. on September 9th, and they would fly back in at 11:30 p.m. the same night. But what a memorable day they had experienced between the two flights.

Kay Jipp, who is an R.N., went along on the flight as the Medical Supervisor, and she and the other "guardians" paid $300 for their trip. The vets paid nothing.

Al Bailey, the Honor Flight's Director of Operations, who was making his 13th Honor Flight trip of the year, piloted their plane. When the group reached their destination at the Washington Mall, rain was pounding down, but they found that a tent had been set up there for the group, along with a box of rain ponchos for them to use. They settled in under the tent for a nice lunch that had been prepared for them, and were greeted by U.S. Senators Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley of Iowa and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. The Senators thanked the veterans for their service and spoke about the importance of their service to the country and the sacrifices they had made.

Said Harkin, a former Navy pilot, "I cannot think of a more fitting tribute for Iowa's World War II veterans than to have he opportunity to travel to Washington today to experience this memorial, which was erected in their honor."

Following the vets' time on the mall, where they saw not only the WWII Memorial, but the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials as well, they were transported by bus to other notable Washington, D.C. sites, including the White House, Pentagon, Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where they were able to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the (formerly) Unknown Soldier.

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The Iowa Honor Flight group performs a "Group Salute" at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo contributed.
By that time, the rain had lightened up, then stopped altogether, so the group of veterans was able to fully enjoy their truly memorable experience -- a much-belated "thank you" from a grateful country.



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