Old Glory Honor Flight attendees shared memories at Ashwaubenon library
By Annette Aubinger
ASHWAUBENON – It’s never too late to say thank you. That is the Old Glory Honor Flight’s message.
Old Glory Honor Flight is a non-profit organization dedicated to transporting local World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.
This organization says thank you to those who served and offers them a free of charge day trip to Washington D.C. to see the memorials.
Four veterans shared their experience on Saturday Nov. 4 at the library with a special program where they got a chance to speak about their experience.
The veterans were Bob Tochterman who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1956; Ray Schilawski who served in the U.S. Navy from 1948-1952; Bob Reeners who served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1948 and the U.S Coast Guard from 1949 to 1966. He obtained the E9 Boatswain (highest honor) from both branches; and Pete DeCleene who served in the U.S. Navy 1962 to 1972 and in the Reserves from 1973 to 1988.
Speaking at the program before the veterans shared experiences was Wendy Fleury, media contact for Old Glory Honor Flight.
She said the program got started with a physician Earl Morris who was taking care of a veteran. He asked the veteran if he had ever seen the memorials in Washington D.C. The veteran said no.
Morris was a pilot and he flew that veteran to Washington D.C. and started flying other veterans there. That is how the program started.
Since 2006 There have been 43 missions to Washington D.C., 3,700 vets flown there from those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She said the motto of the program is “It’s never too late to say thank you.”
Fleury told the group that the oldest vet they flew was 102 years old. He and his wife were in a nursing home. His wife passed and she was the love of his life. He was planning to go on the Honor Flight but now did not want to go.
He did change his mind and went on the day trip and it brought back memories of his tour of duty. He remembered everything. She said he had an amazing time. Two weeks after the trip he passed away.
In Fleury’s words, “It’s never too late to say thank you.”
She said one of the most memorable experiences of the flight is seeing little children lined up on the streets waving to the veterans.
Sharing their experience, Bob Reeners started first. He said he couldn’t say enough good things about the Honor Flight. He said when you saw the wall it is where the real price of freedom is marked.
It makes you think of the wealth of knowledge you lost through the battles. He said no one knows. If one had lived, that person might have found the cure for cancer.
He said real men do cry.
He saw a lot of men cry in battle and a lot of men were crying at the wall, including himself.
A memory of the flight that he will never forget is the mail call. It reminded him of the memories he had when he was on the ship and had mail call and got letters from his wife and sisters.
On the flight, he got letters from his family and friends thanking him for his service.
Ray Schilawski told the group about his experiences in the Navy and at Pearl Harbor and how the Honor Flight brought back memories. He said he would never have gotten to Washington D.C. if it weren’t for Old Glory Honor Flight.
He saw the names of shipmates who lost their lives and the name of his wife’s late brother who was killed.
Bob Tochterman said that being in the service was an experience that could never be duplicated.
He said entering the service at 18 you are a kid. At 20 you are an adult. While on duty he saw a lot of men who lost their lives. He said at his young age you were expected to serve.
It is a different story than today.
He said again, “There is nothing that duplicates the experience and growth you experience while serving in the military.”
He said the Honor Flight was humbling and he will never forget it.
Pete DeCleene shared his experiences working in the Navy. He served in the medical department. He took care of many troops, some who made it and some who didn’t.
He said he enjoyed the Honor Flight and it brought back memories of his years in service.
He thought when he would get off the plane there would be silence and it would be quiet. It was not quiet.
He was surprised and happy to see an area packed with people greeting those who were on the flight.
His words were “Thank you Honor Flight. I enjoyed it.”
Fleury told the group five flights go every season. One of the flights only takes Vietnam veterans in July and it is very special.
As the Honor Flight lands at Oshkosh it is during the time of the EAA Air Show. The Air Show stops. The Vietnam veterans see more than 10,000 people applauding them.
Bob Reeners concluded by saying that you don’t have to be a combat veteran to be on the flight. He said when you joined the service, you didn’t decide where to go. The government told you where you should go and what you would be doing.
Any veteran is welcome.