Saturday was a memorable day for one Montevideo Korean war veteran. Ralph Hunstad, along with his brothers Duane, of Hastings, and Howard, of Wyoming, MN, boarded a charter flight at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and flew to Washington D.C. The flight was sponsored by Honor Flight Twin Cities.
The idea behind Honor Flights is simple. Construction of the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. was completed in 2004 to commemorate the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation.
Unfortunately, many veterans are unable to visit their memorial due to age, lack of money, or health concerns. Honor Flights offers free flights for those veterans so they can visit their monuments.
Since the beginning, Honor Flights have flown over 223,000 Veterans and 162,000 of their Guardians to Washington D.C. Saturday’s flight was organized by Honor Flight Twin Cities, which is a partner of National Honor Flight. It was the 22nd flight sponsored by Honor Flight Twin Cities.
Top priority is given to World War II and Korean War Veterans who have never made the journey to visit their memorials. Flights depart the Twin Cities early in the morning, and Veterans and their Guardians spend a full day at the nation’s capitol before returning to the Twin Cities the same evening.
For Ralph, the journey began on Friday when he and his son Todd drove to the Twin Cities and spent a night in a motel in order to arrive at the airport at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Ralph had to choose one of his three children to accompany him on the trip. “We wrote each of the kid’s names on a piece of paper and chose one; Todd was the lucky one!” laughed Ralph.
As a Guardian, Todd was responsible for accompanying Ralph on the whirlwind tour of Washington D.C. The trip was 100 percent free for Veterans, but Guardians had to pay a modest fee. Ever the good dad, Ralph smiled and said: “I paid for Todd to come with!”
Ralph and Todd met up with Howard, Duane, and their guardians at the Twin Cities/St. Paul Airport at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The three brothers sat together on the flight.
All three brothers served during the Korean War. Ralph was a 2nd Class Petty Officer based on the east coast, serving aboard the USS Zellars-777. Howard was a private in the US Army based in Homewood Illinois, and Duane was an Airman 2nd Class, serving at various air bases in the United States.
When the Hunstad brothers boarded the plane on Saturday morning, along with 80 other veterans and 90 Guardians/volunteers/medical personnel from Minnesota and Wisconsin, they had no idea what waited for them in Washington D.C.
Their flight left the Twin Cities at 6 a.m. and landed at Reagan Airport in Washington D.C. at 9:20 a.m. The Veterans received a hero's welcome when they entered the airport terminal. “It was the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever experienced,” said Ralph. “So many people wanted to shake your hand. so many said ‘welcome back’ and ‘thank you for your service.’ It really was wonderful! There was even a band playing the songs of each branch of the military!”
There was no time for dilly-dallying at the airport. The Veterans boarded buses and began their tour. The first stop was the Air Force Memorial. The itinerary also included stops at the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Navy Museum, the World War II Memorial, the Korea Memorial, a drive by the Capitol and the White House, Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial. Unfortunately, the tour couldn’t stop at all of them due to a parade which took place for the World Series Champions Washington Nationals.
For the tour, every Veteran received special maroon shirts to wear, while the Guardians wore gold shirts. “It was easier to keep track of everybody. You can’t believe how many buses full of veterans were at these places,” explained Ralph.
After a long and busy day, the Honor Flight Veterans returned to the Reagan Airport to board the flight home at 8:40 p.m. They arrived back in Minneapolis at 10:10 p.m., where they were treated to a Welcome Home Reception and Farewell. “There were fifteen military personnel there saluting us,” said Ralph. “I saluted back!”
Ralph and his brothers very much enjoyed the journey, although Ralph admitted it wore him out. “I took a long nap on the flight back!” he said.
It was also a bittersweet experience. One Hunstad brother, Don (who was also a veteran), recently passed away. “The funeral was last week,” said Ralph. “He passed from a stroke.”
For Ralph, the trip to Washington D.C. was memorable. “It was an experience I will never forget,” he said.
Any veterans interested in taking part in Honor Flights can contact Honor Flight Twin Cities at 2674 Mackubin St. Roseville, MN 55113, or call Jerry Kyser at 651-338-2717. Jerry’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.