About one year ago David Ballard sent an application to the Honor Flight Network on behalf of his father, Jim Ballard, who is a Korean War veteran. The Honor Flight Network takes applications of veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War and selects applicants to participate in a day long tour of the monuments and memorials in Washington D.C. In August Jim received a call letting him know he had been selected for a fall 2017 Honor Flight, and he and Dave were off.
The Honor Flight Network covers the cost of flights and meals of their veterans, but the guardians (one family member or caretaker of the veteran) have to pay their own way. Dave accompanied his father on the September 30 trip, which started the evening of Sept. 29 in Kalamazoo with a small dinner and celebration. Veterans were greeted and thanked by police officers and other service people.
The next morning started early, however. Jim and Dave were up by 4 a.m., at the airport by 5, and off to Washington D.C. by 7. They arrived at 9 a.m. with a warm welcome. Hundreds of volunteers came to the Reagan International Airport to celebrate and show their appreciation to the veterans arriving for their tour of Washington D.C. On the September 30 trip were about 73 veterans, plus their guardians, or four busloads of veteran fathers accompanied by sons and daughters.
After the greeting at the airport, the tour officially began with a police motorcade to the National Mall. Police blocked off the streets and led the way for the veterans who were on a day trip. There was a lot to see for these seniors, and time was of the essence.
The highlights of the tour were those three war memorials for the veterans on the trip. Jim had been to the Korean War memorial before, but visiting again reminded him of the national impact of the conflict.
Jim was stationed in the city of Pusan, now called Busan. Although he was only overseas for seven months during the war, Jim said, “I have some very bad memories.” He remembers a fire that devastated the city in 1953, killing only three people, but leaving around 28,000 homeless. Jim was an officer, and didn’t see much of the heavy action. He admits to having some of the most comfortable lodging of the U.S. soldiers, though comfortable is a flexible term in this context.
Jim also admits to having mixed feelings about Korea. He’s proud of the progress South Korea has made, and he is grateful for the good people there. Jim returned to South Korea about 20 years ago. He had family located in Japan, and at the time U.S. citizens had to fly to South Korea indirectly. Meeting his family in Japan and then making their way to South Korea Jim experienced some of those mixed feelings about the country.
His family was lavished with greetings and gifts when they arrived, though for Jim his thoughts were met with both distinct and faded memories of his seven months there in the 50s. He had one destination he had to see on that visit, however. It was a church atop a hill, overlooking the bay where his barge was docked. The driver mistakenly took him to the wrong church at first, but finally Jim made it. The view he remembered so clearly was fresh and new again in a country still plagued by conflict with a northern adversary, but free and independent nonetheless.
One memory that slips Jim’s mind, however, was of the thanks and welcome he received when he returned home after his seven months in Korea. That’s because he like so many other veterans, never received any.
On this trip to Washington D.C., however, Jim and his fellow Korean War veterans received the thanks and recognition they deserved. Several members of Jim’s family made their way to Washington D.C. without his knowing and surprised him before he made the return trip home. And still another surprise awaited him on the plane when he and the other veterans had mail call.
September 30 was a full day for Jim and Dave Ballard, packed with travel, celebration, touring, and remembering. Jim and Dave encourage veterans of WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam War to send in applications to the Honor Flight Network, especially if they are terminal. Terminal veterans are given priority for Honor Flights. Readers interested in applying or recommending the Honor Flight Network to a loved one can visit honorflight.org for more information.