By Kelly MorrisNovember 7, 2019
As the Nation pauses to celebrate its veterans who served with honor, one Fort Rucker employee is reflecting on a recent opportunity to accompany his father, a Korean War veteran, on a final mission--an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Jim Muskopf, a retired colonel who works as a Department of the Army civilian employee at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence G-5 office here, escorted his father Alvin Muskopf, 88, on the Honor Flight out of St. Louis for an unforgettable day in the Nation's Capital Oct. 1.
Alvin, who lives in southern Illinois, was a draftee who served from 1951-1953, and eight months of that time was on the front lines in Korea.
"The Honor Flight society cut a set of orders for Dad to report to the St. Louis airport for his last mission, which was the honor flight," said Jim.
Honor Flights are an opportunity to honor and thank the Americans who secured the Nation's freedom, by bringing them to the Nation's Capital to see the memorials and commemorate their service. The Greater St. Louis Honor Flight celebrates veterans through a one-day, all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.
Clad in their Honor Flight T-shirts, the Muskopf men were up and ready for an early morning start. They enjoyed a full breakfast at the gate, and the 58 veterans and their escorts that day had the plane to themselves. They were each provided a blue bracelet for a special moment of remembrance.
"We took off out of St. Louis, got up to altitude, and one of the first announcements they made was to put down shades and turn all the overhead lights off. They had all the vets to turn on their blue bracelet and raise their arm in honor of all those who did not return from Korea," Jim said.
Once they arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a police escort was provided and stayed with them the entire day.
What would be a day of smiles for Alvin started with a visit to the Arlington Cemetery where they watched the Changing of the Guard and a special wreath laying ceremony. From there, they went to the Korean War Memorial, walked around the National Mall, and paused for a group photo at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
The day included a narrated tour, with additional stops at the Navy Memorial and the World War II Memorial. They saw the Marine Corps Memorial, and enjoyed a meal at the U.S. Air Force Memorial.
"It wasn't just about seeing the memorial or seeing the site, they had two Sailors that were there to do a Flag Folding--unfolded completely and folded as a demonstration for the veterans. An Air Force major general was there to meet and greet the veterans, talk to them, and shake hands with everyone," Jim said.
With warm weather that day, the Honor Flight team were prepared to ensure people's comfort and well being.
"They were walking around the whole day with bottles of water and Gatorade to make sure the veterans and the guardians stayed hydrated," Jim said. "Cooling towels for around the neck, umbrellas, wheel chairs, if you needed it they were ready for it."
With veterans whose ages ranged between 80 and 90 years old, nurses and Emergency Medical Technicians were on hand to check on everyone throughout the day to see if they needed anything.
During the day, Jim communicated with other members of his family including his seven brothers and sisters, taking photos and texting notes and updates on how the day went.
"Throughout the day the replies were, 'It's good to see Dad is still smiling.' And he did, the whole day long," Jim said.
For the Muskopf family, it was a group effort to provide support--including matching T-shirts for the 23 family members.
One of the most special moments happened once they boarded the plane for the return flight: Mail Call.
"Back during World War II and the Korean War, obviously mail was everything. There was no Internet, there was no texting. There was no FaceTime, WhatsApp, none of that stuff was out there. It was all about getting mail. The purpose of conducting Mail Call on the plane was to let them have an opportunity to experience that one more time. There was a big stack of mail for all the veterans," Jim said.
One of Jim's sisters had arranged for all of their father's mail to be captured from friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, and associates so he could read those on the flight home. Among the letters were actual pieces of mail Alvin had sent home from the war all those years ago.
"My dad had written to his sister, Aunt Shirley at least once a week if not two or three times a week. My Aunt Shirley saved every one of those letters. My sister photocopied them and they were in the mail bag, so Dad got to reread letters he sent back home to his sister in 1953 while he was on the line in Korea," Jim said.
Among his mail, Alvin found an extra special treat.
While on a visit to Fort Rucker in 2011, Alvin had met Gary Sinise ("Lt. Dan" from the movie Forrest Gump), who performed with his band at the Freedom Fest event that year. Thanks to the efforts of Jim's sister Amy, Alvin received a personal card signed by Sinise, thanking him for his service.
Back at the airport, a warm reception awaited the veterans, from family and servicemembers, and included a display of flags lining the concourse to help honor the legacy of the patriots who dedicated themselves to the defense of our country.
"It was phenomenal, how they took care of the veterans and made this a day for the veterans to remember, and get the recognition that they missed back in the early 1950s when they came back home," Jim said. "They literally thought of everything. It was absolutely a fabulous day."