For a long time Don Flattem didn't talk about his military service.
The 70-year-old Davenport veteran, who served from 1968-1971, was tired of the negative response, which he said included people spitting on him. “It got to the point I didn’t even tell anyone I was in the service,” he said.
But on Wednesday, he was proud to talk about his service. He teared up when he tried to describe what the dinner for the veterans, guardians and guests at the Isle Casino Hotel, Bettendorf, meant to him before he took off on the 49th Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities.
Flattem is among about 100 veterans, including two World War II veterans and 13 Korean War veterans, who on Thursday will travel to Washington, D.C. to visit monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifice.
“I think I’m just as excited, if not more so, than he is,” said his wife, Jacque Flattem.
The celebration began before the veterans even entered the door.
Outside the Isle, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, on motorcycles replete with American flags, formed an escort to guide the veterans into the parking lot.
“We take care of the veterans,” said Marine Corps veteran Eric Swanson. “It’s veterans taking care of older vets.”
Outside, veterans were greeted by first responders and emergency vehicles, along with members of the military in uniform and lots of folks waving flags.
Just inside, Chris Price, of Davenport, was among those who came to pay tribute to the veterans. Price also heard his nephew, Alex Hoffman, 14, play his clarinet with other Sudlow students while the veterans came in.
“I feel honored to play for the people who protect us,” Alex said.
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In the dining area, Norman Aguirre, an Army veteran who served from 1963-65, began the first of festivities he will enjoy for the next few days.
“I was the second person to graduate from the ‘new’ Moline High School,” he said. When he returns from the Honor Flight, members of the Class of 1959 will be on hand to greet him and to celebrate their 60th class reunion.
Aguirre also will be in the homecoming parade on Friday.
Across the room, Dennis Anderson, of Davenport, said, “It’s been a long time." The Navy veteran served from 1961-64. “It’s a very high honor.”
Also attending the dinner were Major Gen. Steven A. Shapiro, Honor Flight Board members, Honor Flight sponsors and Hy-Vee employees.
“This is the 11th time Hy-Vee has sponsored a flight,” said Honor Flight hub director Steve Garrington, an Army veteran.
Joanne Abbate, of Bettendorf, is among the veterans scheduled to fly Thursday. “We’re looking to send more women veterans," Garrington said. "We want more to send in their applications.”
"The Quad-Cities hub is one of the more active hubs in the country, with four flights a year,” Garrington said.
Dan Anderson, store director at the West Locust Street Hy-Vee, said his customers include many veterans.
“The best day I work each year is when we do the free Veterans Day breakfast," he said.
The public can welcome the veterans back when they arrive about 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Quad-City International Airport, Moline.