ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Soldiers from U.S. Army Sustainment Command and First U.S. Army spent the day with World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans during the first flightless Honor Flight, here, Aug. 17.
The event gave veterans who couldn't physically fly to Washington, D.C., the opportunity to see local monuments and enjoy a day of praise and respect for their service.
"It's just amazing, the patriotism these veterans are showing," said Bob Morrison, director, Honor Flights of the Quad Cities. "The experience they have today, they'll remember for the rest of their lives."
The veterans arrived at the American Legion in Davenport, Iowa, early Monday morning and were introduced to their escort. Each veteran was paired with a Soldier from Rock Island Arsenal who would escort them throughout the day.
Soldiers got to know their veteran partners during breakfast after escorting them through the "chow line." Some of the Soldiers retrieved breakfast for those veteran partners who could no longer walk.
Capt. Paul Petersen, unit integrator, Distribution Management Center, was paired with Korean War veteran Bert Chelf. They shared stories about their military experience during breakfast -- a conversation that involved plenty of laughter as they compared their differences and connected through their similarities.
"With Bert, I really liked just sitting with him and hearing his stories and listening to his experiences," said Petersen. "He's a good guy -- a funny guy -- and I had a good time."
Chelf, a native of Muscatine, Iowa, served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1954 to 1956. His wife of 58 years, Juanita, accompanied him throughout the day. He reflected on how much the Army shaped his life.
"Being a young man when I was drafted, it really taught me a lot," he said. "Most importantly, that I didn't know as much as I thought I knew at the time."
Petersen asked Chelf to talk about one his favorite Army memories.
"I remember my first jump," said Chelf. "I don't know if I was more excited to be in the plane, or to jump -- or probably to actually land," he deadpanned.
Petersen exchanged contact information with Chelf and said he'd like to take his wife and children to visit Bert and Juanita.
"I think it's important because these people fashioned this country into what it is today, not only in their civilian lives, but they're also veterans and deserve to be respected and appreciated for what they've done," said Petersen.
"This (flightless Honor Flight) is a great thing and I hope they continue to do it. I wish my father could have experience something like this coming home from Vietnam."
After breakfast, the veterans and their escorts traveled by bus to RIA for a brief memorial observance at the Rock Island National Cemetery, a tour of the island led by ASC Historian George Eaton and lunch at the golf clubhouse.
Everett Paxton, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, got a special moment while departing the cemetery.
Paxton's wife died last year, and is buried in RI National Cemetery. He does not walk easily, and hadn't been able to visit his wife's grave for several months. Supporting members of the tour stood by her grave so he could find it easily from the bus and show his military escort -- a gesture Paxton said he greatly appreciated.
After leaving RIA, the group drove along "Hero Street" in Silvis, Illinois, then returned to the American Legion in Davenport, Iowa, where the veterans received gift bags and ice cream.
Col. Lance Koenig, chief of staff, ASC, spoke to the group at the end, thanking the Quad Cities community.
"I haven't been here very long, but before I came I was told that the Quad Cities was known for providing great support to those who serve in uniform today and those who served in the past," Koenig said.
"As I've found out today, that reputation is well deserved and is backed by action as well as words. What you've done here today is another outstanding example of that."
Koenig talked about how previous generations of his family fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and expressed his gratitude to the veterans who had just participated in the first flightless Honor Flight.
"We who came after you owe you so much that we can't possibly repay you," he said. "It is truly humbling to follow in your footsteps, and carrying on the work you began is certainly no easy task. But we do our best, following the example of service and sacrifice that you left for us and that you exemplified so well, preserving that example and your memories for future generations.
"The fact of the matter is you honored us far more than we could ever honor you. You placed the needs of others -- millions of Americans you'd never met, and millions more who hadn't been born yet -- far ahead of your own needs. No higher honor than that can ever be (repaid)."