Harold Messenger's voice shook a bit as he talked about how important today's Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities trip to Washington, D.C., will be to him.
"I want to see the Korean Memorial. It has been 61 years. So, yes, it will be emotional," Messenger of Davenport said during a pre-flight dinner for the veterans Wednesday night at the Hy-Vee banquet room on East Kimberly Road, Davenport.
"When we came home from the war, we just came home, changed clothes, and went back to work. There were no flags waving or anything."
That was hardly the case Wednesday. A high school band playing patriotic songs greeted veterans as they entered the room, and local ROTC members saluted them.
Today's Honor Flight is the final one of 2013. It departs at 7 a.m. from the Quad-City International Airport in Moline with 80 Korean War and 11 World War II veterans on board.
In Washington, D.C., the group and the volunteers who are accompanying them, known as guardians, will spend the day touring military monuments dedicated in their honor. They are scheduled to return to the Quad-Cities about 9:45 p.m. today.
Quad-City and Clinton Hy-Vee stores are sponsoring the whirlwind, day-long trip. This is the fifth Honor Flight that Hy-Vee has sponsored and the 26th flight since November 2008.
“Every veteran should have the opportunity to make this trip,” said Debbie Geisler, Quad-City marketing director for Hy-Vee. “This trip means everything to these veterans and Hy-Vee feels honored and privileged to make this flight possible."
Among veterans traveling today will be Geisler's father, former Sen. Roger Jepsen, R-Iowa, who is 85 and living in Florida. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1985.
"I was the guest speaker here last year," said Jepsen who served in the Army during World War II. "I am so happy Hy-Vee is doing this. If I had my way, we would give them a national award."
Thirteen Hy-Vee representatives will make the flight. For the first time this year, Hy-Vee conducted a promotion to select six customers to serve as guardians on the flight. Guardians normally pay their own way.
One of those customers is William Looney of Grand Mound, Iowa, who served with the Army in Korea from 1965-1967. When he heard about the promotion, Looney decided to sign up.
"I thought it would be kind of a honor," he said.
Robert and Barbara Long of Davenport have been married 62 years. They were married while Robert was serving Marine Corps during the Korean War.
"He told me he did not like living in the barracks, so he said 'Let's get married.' So, we did," said Barbara Long, who like her husband, is a retired music teacher.
Robert said he was thrilled by Wednesday's celebration.
"This is marvelous. This is wonderful," he said. "The band was playing. Servicemen were saluting. I was a little choked up to tell you the truth. This is so amazing. I am looking very much to going to Washington, D.C.
"I know people who are on (the Korean Memorial.) I have several names I want to look for."