To the editor:
We broke the law Oct. 1.
I was on the Story County Freedom Flight with 150 Story County veterans who broke federal law. We joined 90 World War II veterans from the State of Mississippi.
On our flight out Tuesday morning, we were told there was a chance the WW II Memorial could be closed along with other memorials. When we landed, we found that indeed it was. This was to be our first stop and when we arrived, fences were up, signs posted all over, “We are closed.” Buses carrying 90 WW II vets from Mississippi had pulled up shortly before us. We pulled up right behind them. By the time we got off the buses, the WW II vets had the gate removed and were entering the memorial. I was told the Mississippi vets told the Park Rangers we came all the way from Mississippi to see the WW II Memorial, and we are going in, regardless what you say. The gate was removed and they entered the memorial wearing their red jackets, many in wheelchairs, with Story County vets right behind them in our yellow jackets.
Senators Grassley and Harkin were there earlier, but didn’t have much luck getting the memorial open. Rep. King was also there, greeting our vets at the Iowa section in the memorial. Make no mistake, it was Mississippi’s 90 WW II vets that got the gate open. Soon, TV cameras appeared from CNN and ABC. What they saw was a sea of red and yellow jackets walking all around the memorial. Eldon Boswell and Francis Miller were both interviewed and appeared on the evening news. Unfortunately, the water fountains were all shut down. I had been there before, and seeing the fountains in action was something we missed on this trip.
One thing I really enjoyed was meeting up with my daughter Kim and granddaughter Maya at the memorial. Also, Don Kockler met up with his daughter Ashley. They were able to accompany us on the rest of the trip. The memorial was closed again after the Freedom Flight vets left. It was time to leave for Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier. We witnessed this and two Story County vets, father and son, place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an impressive ceremony.
On to the Air Force Memorial. It was closed, but we were able to make a stop. There was a beautiful view of the city from this point. Then to the Navy Memorial, which was downtown and has a huge water fountain, but of course it was turned off as well.
Then it was time to go to the Korean Memorial and the Vietnam Wall. Of course, the normal entrance was blocked. We had to come in from the back side, which made for a lot of walking. Kim insisted that I ride in a wheelchair over to the Korean Memorial, as it was quite a ways to go. Maya pushed me, and as we went by the Lincoln Memorial, we saw it was all fenced off so no one could get a picture of Abe sitting in his chair. We walked around the Korean Memorial with the Statues of Soldiers on patrol standing silently. I was reminded of Bill Spaid, my classmate in Colo who died in Korea and is buried in Colo. Along the Korean Wall with its images, I asked Dr. Zimmerman to take pictures of Kim and Maya and me standing in front of the wall. Dr. Zimmerman was one of two physicians who accompanied the flight. Back around the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Wall, where we spent a lot of time. Chuck Graham is on the wall, but is hard to find since he is listed from Arkansas as that is where his parents lived. The wall has an emotional effect on people. Unfortunately, the large government-run gift shop was closed as well, so no gifts for Jan, Kim and Maya.
On to the Iwo Jima Memorial, which has the largest bronze casting in the world of raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi by five U.S. Marines. Naturally the entranced was blocked again, so we had to come in from the back side, which made for more walking. Group pictures were taken in front of the statue. It was time for Kim, Maya and Ashley to leave us and catch the Metro into the city. It sure made Don’s and my day to have them with us.
We took a long ride to the Dulles Airport. We arrived at 8 p.m. to catch our flight home. By this time, TV news coverage of our take over of the WW II Memorial was all over nightly news. So when we entered the terminal with our yellow jackets on the way to our gate, people were yelling and clapping and thanking us for what we did today. One man made a special point to come up to shake my hand, saying “real proud of you today.’ A very emotional time for me.
Arriving in Des Moines at 10:30, we all gathered at the gate so we could go down to the lobby as a group. Lining both sides were the bikers, holding flags, and many others greeted us along with TV cameras - a great homecoming. The bikers led us to the airport in the morning and led back to Ames at night. It was great seeing their red lights ahead of us as we left Des Moines.
My thanks to Brett McLain, director of Story County Veteran Affairs and Renee Twedt, Wonder Woman, and all the Red Shirts who took care of us 150 Story County Vvterans on our Freedom Flight to Washington, D.C. And my thanks to the 150 veterans. It was an honor to travel with you. And thanks to 90 World War II veterans from the State of Mississippi for their courage.
Symbolically, we took our country back from the politicans. I take great pride in that.
Peace be with you.