Ludtke participates in 400th Honor Flight to Washington D.C.
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By Missy Klatt
GLENWOOD CITY — Robert “Bob” Ludtke of rural Downing was able to go on the Badger Honor Fight, that left out of Madison earlier this month on April 8th. His granddaughter, April was able to along as his guardian. Bob stated that they told them that they were the 400th Honor Flight to make the trip to Washington D.C.
Badger Honor Flight is a regional affiliate of the national Honor Flight Network. The purpose of the Honor Flight Network is to help veterans of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and terminally ill Veterans from any war to have the opportunity to see the memorials that have been erected in their honor. Bob said he was able to go because he is basically considered disabled.
The flights are all run by volunteers and are totally free to the veterans. However, the guardian pays $500 to cover their expenses or $300 if they have served in the U.S. military. The veterans are also given a T-shirt and light weight jacket to keep.
Guardians make sure the veterans stay with the group and take care of any special needs. In April’s case she pushed her grandfather around in a wheel chair (which are provided for those in need) as Bob would have had trouble keeping up with their fast paced itinerary.
All Veterans and guardians interested in flying out of Madison, have to submit an application to Badger Honor Flight. Veterans and guardians are selected for flights on a first-come, first-served basis. Exceptions are made for terminally ill veterans; if a doctor certifies that a veteran is terminally ill, he or she receives priority status. Priority is also given to WWII Veterans to fly first. Bob noted that they had one gentlemen from WWII on their flight.
There are over 130 regional affiliates of the Honor Flight which began in 2005.
After being deferred during the Korean War so he could stay home and work on the farm, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1955 and served on the USS Johnson A21, a destroyer. He was a gunner’s mate and served from 1955-57. He was the captain of his gunner’s mount and had 25 men under him. His career in the Navy took him up and down the coast of the Mediterranean, to Cuba, New York, Spain, Portugal, Guantanamo Bay, Sweden, and France. Bob had quite the tour as he says. Of course most of the time he was on the water with the occasional weekend leave when they got into port. Then he got to see a bit of those countries.
Bob first applied to go on the Honor Flight at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) office, this was before the Covid-19 pandemic. April who helps Bob with his different appointments, with the VA found out that he could get a flight out of Madison quicker than LaCrosse so they got signed up for that and away they went.
Bob and April went down the day before to Madison and stayed overnight in a hotel as the check-in time for the flight for Washington, D.C. was at 4:30 a.m. CDT. At the airport they had something to eat and a sendoff ceremony with honor guards.
The plane was full of veterans and their guardians and when they arrived about 10 a.m. EDT in Washington D.C. they filled up four coach buses. Their first stop was at the Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima statue) where they took a group photo.
Other stops on the itinerary included Arlington National Cemetery (including watching of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony), Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon.
Bob thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the memorials but he said he really enjoyed seeing the WWII memorial. He also found the changing of the guard at Arlington interesting. The cherry blossoms were all blooming at the time which Bob liked.
Bob stated that they didn’t have any formal sit down meal during their visit but there were snacks and drinks available throughout the day with a sack lunch at noontime and they had a meal on the plane on the way home.
At 7 p.m. EDT their flight depart D.C. for their journey back to Madison.
After the long day, one would have thought that Bob would have slept on the plane on the way home but Bob said they pulled a fast one on him. His birthday was two days before on April 6th and as they left D.C. he was given a whole pack of birthday cards from his kids and grandkids and neighbors and he was busy reading them on the way back.
When talking about his various cards Bob smiles and comments, “I got a kick out of the one I got from the wife. She says when you left ‘I sold the farm and I went to Turtle Lake [the casino].’” Bob got a big chuckle from that. He continues, she writes at the bottom “April Fool.”
Much to Bob’s surprise there were nearly 1,000 people of all ages that greeted the flight in Madison when they got off the plane. There was also a big band there and a large Honor Guard there. Bob remarks that everyone wanted to shake hands when they went down the line. And he said everyone was shouting ‘welcome back’. He said it really made the flight at the end with the way they honored everyone when they came back through the airport.
Bob would encourage any veteran that is able to take the flight. He was talking about it with some of his veteran friends and three of them have already signed up for a future flight.
This was Bob’s first trip to Washington D.C. so it was very special to him. Bob concluded by saying, “It was quite a trip.”