By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Although it was a long day — and a hot day — it was a great day.
Harold Halfin of Menomonie, a World War II veteran who served in the United States Army, described the Freedom Honor Flight from LaCrosse to Washington D.C. in September as “one of the greatest days of my life.”
Halfin and his daughter, Janet Quarderer, who served as a guardian on the flight, spoke about the trip at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center November 12 in honor of Veteran’s Day.
“It was a great day. One of the greatest days of my life … I couldn’t believe it. All kinds of people there to greet you and shake your hand and say, ‘thank you for your service,’” Halfin said.
Three others from Menomonie also took the Freedom Honor Flight on September 22 out of LaCrosse.
Veterans and guardians were asked to be at the LaCrosse airport at 5:30 a.m. The flight for Washington D.C. left at 7:15, and the flight returned to LaCrosse at 10:45 p.m.
“It was 93 degrees the day we were in Washington D.C.,” Quarderer noted.
The Freedom Honor Flight to Washington D.C. is free of charge to veterans, although guardians — and there is usually one guardian for every two veterans — pay $500 each for the trip.
Names and places
The Honor Flight is a nation-wide program, but each area chooses its own name, Quarderer said.
For example, the flight out of LaCrosse is Freedom Honor Flight. The flight out of Madison is the Badger Honor Flight. The flight from Wausau is the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. Appleton has the Old Glory Honor Flight. Port Washington has the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight.
Two or three flights each year leave from LaCrosse, and so far, there have been ten Freedom Honor Flights out of LaCrosse, each with about 100 veterans.
On the trip Halfin and Quarderer took, there were 97 veterans, including 54 WWII veterans and 43 Korean veterans.
Volunteers are present at the airport, all along the route in Washington D.C., and at the airport when the flight returns. The volunteers play music, sing songs, and greet the veterans to say, “thank you for your service.”
“Talk about volunteerism. You can’t beat it,” Halfin said.
Wherever the tour buses went in Washington D.C., a police escort went ahead of them.
“We were never held up by traffic,” Quarderer noted.
In fact, the police escorts pull over traffic so the tour buses can travel down the middle of the street. And the buses never stop for stoplights. Even traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue, the police stopped traffic coming from all side streets, Quarderer said.
While they were in Washington D.C., people on the Freedom Honor Flight toured the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, as well as other points of interest, such as the Arlington National Cemetery, where 300,000 people are buried.
Those on the tour also witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
“Everything (at the changing of the guard) is done in 21 — 21 steps, 21 seconds. It’s all done in honor of the 21-gun salute,” Halfin said.
The Vietnam War Memorial contains the names of 58,000 soldiers who died, including 1,200 who are missing in action.
Upon their return to the LaCrosse airport, the flight was greeted by the UW-LaCrosse marching band and 30 minutes of fireworks. The airport was crowded with people, too, including family members of the veterans who were there to welcome them home — sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This past September, Honor Flights visited Washington D.C. on 24 of the 30 days in the month, accounting for 63 flights from 26 states, Quarderer noted.
Halfin said he urges all veterans to consider taking an Honor Flight.
“It is at no cost what-so-ever to veterans. It’s all free,” he said.
In fact, veterans going on the flight receive a memo saying that they should not bring any money with them unless they want to buy a souvenir in Washington D.C., Halfin said.
American Legion Post 100 in Sparta sponsored the trip that Halfin and Quarderer were part of. Kwik Trip has sponsored other Freedom Honor Flights.
Honor Flight is “a huge network. LaCrosse had the first Freedom Honor Flight in 2008,” Quarderer said.
Many of the veterans are in wheelchairs and some are on oxygen — but all are welcome and are cared for from the start of the day to the end of the day, she said.
Two physicians and four paramedics were on the Freedom Honor Flight in September, and people with a medical background are encouraged to apply to be guardians on the flights, Quarderer said.
For more information about the Freedom Honor Flight, go to www.freedomhonorflight.org.