Last Frontier Honor Flight: Following along on the organization’s 17th mission
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Come along on the most recent Last Frontier Honor Flight through the Alaska’s News Source documentary, ‘Taking Flight: Honoring Alaska’s Veterans,’ airing at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 2 on November 10, 2023.
This year marks the 10th anniversary for the Last Frontier Honor Flight, an organization that celebrates Alaska’s veterans through trips to Washington, D.C., so that those service members can visit the memorials created in their honor.
Below, you can follow along with Carly and Beth, who had the privilege of traveling with the Last Frontier Honor Flight this October and were there for every step of the five-day journey.
Day 1: Last Frontier Honor Flight takes off for Portland
Twenty-one veterans and their guardians took off on Day 1 of the Last Frontier Honor Flight’s 17th mission as part of the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration, which features two Honor Flights in 2023. After the first flight of the year in April, the second took off for the nation’s capital in late October.
Ahead of the trip, U.S. Army and Vietnam War veteran Ted B. Trueblood – who is a lead at the Alaska Veterans Museum in Anchorage – shared how excited he was about traveling to Washington, D.C., not only to spend time with fellow veterans but also to have some quality time with one of his children.
“Some special father-daughter time, with the military connection,” he said. “I think the most fun is, of course, swapping war stories with the other guys, ya know. But, with the youngest daughter with me, we’ll have a nice time and get to go to all the monuments and have an explanation of all their history and a few good things like that. So the overall ambiance is kind of what I am looking most towards.”
First up was a meet-and-greet at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, to kick off the first part of the journey to D.C.
“I think I’ll be happy just visiting with the people who are on this flight, seeing the memorials,” said U.S. Army and Korean War veteran Don Judd, who added that this was his fourth attempt at finally getting on an Honor Flight after some unexpected circumstances meant he couldn’t attend previous ones. “Washington, D.C., is a place that everybody should go to.
“It’s important for people to know that some very dedicated people to our country were willing to spend a few years of their life to do something for their country,” he continued. “I think that it’s highly worthwhile to give us a chance to see these memorials.”
Following the flight from ANC to the Portland Airport, the Honor Flight group was welcomed to its hotel the same evening by former Oregon servicemen and servicewomen, who said they simply wanted to show up and support other veterans.
“I’ve got a son who’s a disabled vet,” explained Edwin Anderson, a retired Navy veteran and current Patriot Guard Rider, who was on site welcoming the Honor Flight veterans to their lodging. “My father was a WWII and Korean War vet. My brother was a Vietnam vet – my two brothers. It’s in the family, pretty much.
“A lot of us were gone a long time; I was gone 13 months, 12 months, seven months, six months,” he continued. “But a lot of civilians don’t understand ... A lot of veterans (on the Honor Flight) will be very emotional. I know how it was.”
Day 2: Honor Flight lands in Washington, D.C.
Day 2 was primarily a travel day for the nearly 50 people total on this particular Last Frontier Honor Flight.
Current and former U.S. Coast Guard service members were at the Portland Airport as the group arrived for their flight in the morning, with the Honor Flight veterans ready to board the plane to D.C.
After that flight – the second of the trip, which took the veterans from Portland to Washington, D.C. – the Honor Flight was welcomed to Reagan National Airport with more than one standing ovation.
Vietnam War and Marine veteran Willie Vizzerra said he was thrilled to see the Honor Flight veterans received so well upon arriving to D.C.
“It’s great, just great,” he said. “It’s an honor. Believe me, I didn’t expect to see this.”
Fellow Vietnam War veteran Gene Clark, who served in the U.S. Army, spoke of his anticipation of finally seeing the memorials across the city.
“It’s a different feeling when you’re there, and I’m with my brothers,” Clark said, adding that he was especially keen to see the memorial walls, particularly the one in honor of those who served during the Vietnam War.
Once through the airport, the veterans then made their way to their hotel ahead of dinner, portraits, and some time to share personal stories with one another.
Day 3: Twenty-one veterans tour memorials across nation’s capital
Beginning bright and early again on Day 3 of this Last Frontier Honor Flight, the group started at the World War II memorial, followed by a self-guided tour through the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Lincoln memorials throughout the afternoon.
Harold Wolverton, a Korean War veteran aboard the Honor Flight, was looking for a friend’s name that was etched into one of the walls of the Korean War memorial.
“I’ve never taken the time to do what we’re doing today,” Wolverton said, “and reflect, and witness, and view these great monuments.
“They sent about 40 of us to Germany to retrain the German Air Force,” he said, describing his part of his time in the service. “And then I got out, went into a civilian kind of atmosphere, but I joined the reserve in Portland, Oregon.”
Wolverton did end up finding the name of his friend, Charles “Bruce” Wilson, at the memorial.
Others on the trip found loved ones memorialized as well.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Honor Flight veterans Jerry Pattison and Rodney Price, who service during the Vietnam War, both found names they were looking for, too.
“I found my way over to panel 38E, row 60, and found a high school classmate’s name,” Pattison shared. “He was killed the 9th of February, 1968.
“Six days later,” the Army veteran continued, “I enlisted, delayed entry, on Valentine’s Day.”
Along with viewing the memorials, Honor Flight participants described a camaraderie experienced at each stop, with hopes of sharing more with others back home – perhaps to the point of convincing them to also consider an Honor Flight trip.
“I think one of the nice things about this trip is meeting people that were serving the same time I was but never got the opportunity to know them,” said Marcelo Quinto, Jr., a Territorial Guard and U.S. Navy veteran out of Juneau who served during the Vietnam War. “I think our Alaska Native veterans would certainly enjoy a trip like this, very pleasant, and I hope they take advantage. And I will bring back some information to them and hope they’ll take advantage.”
Lunch was held near the United States Navy Memorial – located downtown and midway between the Capitol building and White House – at the nearby Naval Heritage Center.
Tim Armstrong, also a Navy and Vietnam War veteran, said he’d never been to Washington, D.C., before the Last Frontier Honor Flight. It took a long time for him to finally agree to come on the trip.
“You know, I wasn’t in the jungles of Vietnam; I was on a ship, refueling other ships,” he explained, adding that a woman connected with his water aerobics class finally convinced him to go on an Honor Flight. “It took me a while ... You know, my cousin was in the jungle, getting shot at; I was out in the ocean. So I didn’t feel like I should be there.
“I never thought it was a big deal,” he said, “So to see this, it’s really exciting, particularly people thanking you for your service, even in the terminals, that’s kinda cool.”
From the Navy Memorial, veterans stopped by the Air Force Memorial and drove by the Pentagon, which features its own dedicated space honoring those whose lives were lost during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The group also stopped at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial before heading into Arlington National Cemetery for a viewing of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
American Legion Post 177 then welcomed all of the travelers for dinner to end the itinerary for the evening.
Day 4: Last Frontier Honor Flight’s 17th mission wraps up D.C. portion of tour
After another early wake-up call, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, of the National Air and Space Museum, was the first host of the Honor Flight veterans on Day 4.
The featured memorial on this day was the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, where Honor Flight veterans took in a 32-foot-tall depiction of what is now the iconic image of the second flag-raising at Iwo Jima during World War II.
The memorial was rehabilitated, according to the National Park Service, between 2016 and 2020, to include cleaning and waxing of the memorial, new engravings, brazing of bronze seams, and re-gilding of all letters and inscriptions on the sculpture’s base.
After the visit to that memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, was a rest and snack at Roosevelt Memorial Park. From there, the veterans headed back to the airport to begin the return route to Anchorage.
Upon landing back in Portland once again, a ceremony and procession through the airport – led by a bagpipe player – brought the Honor Flight veterans toward the motorcoach.
A handful of the individuals who came out to support on Day 2 returned as part of an even larger group for this evening’s welcome.
Day 5: Veterans head back to Anchorage, welcomed with homecoming event
Following a quick breakfast, veterans and their guardians were on the bus one last time to make their way back to the airport for the last flight of the trip: Portland to Anchorage, where a homecoming celebration awaited the 21 servicemen who flew with the Last Frontier Honor Flight’s 17th mission.
Mike Jarrett, an Honor Flight veteran who served in the Vietnam War and traveling as part of the October trip, spoke from the airport in Portland about his experience throughout the week.
“It’s just phenomenal,” Jarrett said. “I ride motorcycles with the Combat Vets (Motorcycle Association), and we’ve been doing the welcoming home ceremony, but that’s all we do, is just the end of it. So, this was just so full of surprises – not only seeing the memorials that were built for us, which most of us don’t get to see, but all the other things that they’ve showed us. I think I gained a few pounds with the food!”
Jarrett said he was looking into traveling with the Last Frontier Honor Flight and had initially decided he would wait to really pursue participating, but that changed recently.
“I told myself, as long there was a World War II or Korean vet, I would never get on that airplane,” he explained. “But in about 2014, we sponsored a World War II vet – the Combat Vets did – and we had a party and all that stuff, had a cake for him, and it was just so great seeing those guys going to experience what I got to experience. And now, I understand it.”
Walter Soboleff, Jr., a Vietnam War veteran from Juneau who served in the Navy, was taken aback by the outpouring of support from the general public.
“It felt good – all of those children, you know, shaking them little hands, one after another,” he said. “Oh, gosh; heart-melting.”
Army veteran Larry Schmidt, who also served in the Vietnam War, will always reflect on the experience fondly.
“It’s an experience that I’m glad that I had – very, very glad,” Schmidt said while admiring the Marine Corp Memorial. “I’m thankful that they were able to put it all together and that I was able to come.”
The Alaska’s News Source documentary, ‘Taking Flight: Honoring Alaska’s Veterans,’ airs at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 2 on November 10, 2023.
Copyright 2023 KTUU. All rights reserved.