Sharing War Stories: 88 Local Veterans Spent Two Days In Washington, D.C.
They were selected for the latest North Dakota-Minnesota Veterans Honor Flight
FARGO, N.D. — They were a group of 88 of our area’s finest service members.
They were just the latest heroes to take the North Dakota-Minnesota Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
We went along for the ride and it was a 2-day whirlwind of activity as we took in memorial after memorial, shared lunches and snacks and more importantly shared stories.
They were the wars that defined their generations: World War 2, Korea and Vietnam.
These vets served, fought and were lucky enough to return from war unlike thousands of their fellow comrades in battle.
They boarded a chartered plane at Hector International Airport early on Sunday, September 30 and they arrived to a heroes welcome at Reagan National in D.C.
Then it was time to load up four buses and head out to see the memorials in their honor.
And we didn’t stop until we reached our destination thanks to a police escort which parted the traffic and sailed through stop signs and red lights everywhere we went.
Then it was time to get to know these heroes.
We met Dave Konshok of Park Rapids at the newly refurbished Iwo Jima Memorial.
He was one of just 7 World War Two veterans on the trip and served until 1946.
“So you didn’t expect to come back,” Konshok said. “The only thing that changed that was the atomic bomb, a lot of us wanted to pat that fat boy and say thanks buddy.”
This navy vet went on to start a small town department store and became so involved in aviation, not only is the Park Rapids airport now known as Konshok Field, he is also in the aviation hall of fame.
Curtis Gwynn of Park Rapids was in the U.S. Navy during World War Two.
“We were sitting out in the ocean waiting to go into Japan, and they dropped the big bomb. And then we went to Okinawa,” said Gwynn.
He was a Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class in the U.S. Navy. He enlisted when he was just 17 and his dad had to sign the papers for him to join.
He served until 1946 when he was discharged and took the next steps in life.
“God, that’s a long time ago, said Gwynn. “I went to college. Then I got into the service station business and I spent about 30 years in the service station business. ”
“Soon as I got off the ship they said sorry girls you have to stay here,” said Grace Peterson, the only woman veteran on the Honor Flight.
The Alexandria woman went along with her husband, Maurice. They had quite a tale about how they became Mr. and Mrs. for 65 years.
“He called one day when I was in Yokohama, that’s where i worked out of Korea, and I said no I don’t want to see him,” said Grace.
Even though they grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, they weren’t an item until Maurice pursued Grace during the Korean War.
They ended up getting married at the El Toro Marine Base Chapel.
Grace said, “Then we argue because he’s Marine Korean Vet and I’m Army so and we are each sergeants so who got it first?”
Maurice Peterson said, “I’m a staff sergeant so I’m over her.”
Grace spent time working at the Pentagon where she was a clerk-typist and she spend two years in Japan.
We had many moments that really stood out for their emotional impact, among dozens.
The first: the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
These veterans will never forget seeing the hundreds of thousands of tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery.
And we ran into our friend Curtis Johnson of Hawley.
We interviewed Curtis about his time serving in Korea just days before heading out on the flight.
He was at the Pentagon Memorial during the Honor Flight and paying tribute to a high school classmate from Alexandria who was killed on 9-11, Max Beilke.
The benches facing away from the Pentagon represent those killed in the building, those facing the building are those on flight 77 that crashed into the building.
Between stops, a granddaughter of one of the veterans boarded each bus for an emotional rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
One of the final stops: the memorials for FDR and MLK.
That’s where we ran into U.S. Army veteran Allen Nelson of Alexandria.
His son Gary was along as an escort on the trip.
Gary said, “It was pretty amazing. I wasn’t expecting all of the attention you know you get a police escort around the traffic, it’s amazing.”
His dad served during Korea and spent a year in Germany for his last tour.
TJ: Anything happen to you or you got out fine?
TJ: Fit as a fiddle. Yeah.
All of these 88 veterans: 7 from World War 2, 76 from Korea and 5 from Vietnam all said the same thing: this was the trip of a lifetime.
Rex Tottingham of Jamestown/U.S. Navy said, “We appreciate all the guys who volunteer and help us out, really a super deal.”
“There has been a lot of highlights,’ laughed Gwynn.
Even a Senator from North Dakota had to show the veterans how much they are appreciated all these years after serving.
Sen. John Hoeven (R) North Dakota said, “We owe these veterans everything so we have World War 2 veterans, Korean War veterans from mostly North Dakota but some Minnesota veterans too. We have a country because of our men and women in uniform and our great veterans so God bless ’em, we love ’em, we owe them everything.”
Senator Hoeven joined the veterans, volunteers and family members for group picture time.
“It’s an absolute joy to be here with them, you bet,” Hoeven said.
Then it was back on the plane for home after an exhausting two days and a welcome that brought smiles and a few tears.
Fundraising efforts are already underway for the next two trips in 2019.
To learn how to sign up a veteran for the honor flight, click here.