Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series about honor flights for area veterans
It may have taken 50 years, but three local men finally received the day of recognition for their service.
Steve Batten and Walt Pritchard of Clarinda and Bill Lindsay of rural New Market were among 240 military veterans that participated in the Iowa Honor Flight Tuesday, May 21, to Washington, D.C. The flight, featuring two planes each carrying 180 people including veterans, escorts and medical personnel, was based in Des Moines.
“I think it was a great honor. It was something I never thought I would get to do, so I was very grateful. I hope others get an opportunity to go because it was certainly worth it,” Lindsay said.
“It was very touching and very emotional. Washington is awesome to see in person. It was really a trip of a lifetime for us veterans. I’ll always treasure it,” Batten said. “I would encourage other veterans to sign up for these types of programs. I think it would be very rewarding for other veterans to have this kind of opportunity.”
Batten, Lindsay and Pritchard each applied to go on an Iowa Honor Flight a few years ago. They were notified of their selection two months ago.
“They called six months ago double checking the information on my application form. They said they were updating their records. I didn’t know what the chances were because there are a lot of veterans out there. When I received the letter I thought they wanted more information, but when I opened it, it said congratulations, I had been selected. I was elated to get to go,” Batten said.
“I had about given up on it because I didn’t know they were getting another one up until I received the notice in the mail,” Lindsay said.
Pritchard, who saw active duty with the United States Army from 1952-1954 during the Korean Conflict, said he questioned if he would get selected for a flight since he had not served overseas.
“I put my name in three or four years ago, but I never heard anything. I had not pushed it because I did not go overseas. I knew there were so many veterans waiting, but they got down to me eventually,” Pritchard said.
The Iowa Honor Flight program was started 10 years ago and this was the 14th flight to Washington, D.C. Prior to departing on the flight, the veterans were honored Monday, May 20, during a dinner at the Hy-Vee conference center in West Des Moines.
A police escort led 12 charter buses full of veterans, and the support staff on a 14 mile trip from their hotel to the center.
Tuesday, the group divided into eight color groups. Veterans were presented with black baseball caps designating the war or conflict they served during as well as purple shirts and jackets featuring the Iowa Honor Flight emblem. Batten was aboard the first plane, while Lindsay and Pritchard were on the second plane that departed one hour later.
Upon arriving at Dulles International Airport, both planes were greeted by a huge welcoming committee. Those turning out to welcome the flights waived U.S. flags and offered hugs and applause in appreciation for the veterans.
Lindsay served in the United States Air Force from June 1959 to March 1973. While in Vietnam from 1970-1971, he was stationed at Phan Rang Air Base.
“It was a great deal. I have never felt like that or was honored like that. When we came home there were no parades or nothing,” Lindsay said.
“When we got to Dulles I could not believe the reception we got. I could hear drums and then I saw a little kid’s band playing songs for us. A girl was playing the drums and watching everyone go by,” Batten said.
“I saw an 11-year-old girl holding a banner that said, ‘Hi Soldiers.’ There were a lot of kind messages from people of all generations,” Pritchard said. “There was a sense of appreciation from the people we came across. This was my third trip to Washington, but this was the most impressive trip because of the organization that was involved and because the people showed us so much respect.”
While in Washington, D.C., the members of the Iowa Honor Flight had visited the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the United States Marines Corps War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. They also had a chance to drive past the Pentagon.
“The pictures you see on TV or in books do not do those memorials justice. They are something to see in person,” Lindsay said.
“All of them are unique in their own way. They represent the time and there is a special meaning behind each one,” Batten said.
Upon leaving Arlington National Cemetery, Batten said his bus drove down Constitution Avenue and he was able to see the South Lawn of the White House on the way to the World War II Memorial. However, since the second flight Lindsay and Pritchard were on was delayed, they did not have time to visit the World War II Memorial.
All three men said they were honored to walk on the sacred ground at Arlington National Cemetery. During their visits, they were able to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Arlington National Cemetery was very impressive. The cemetery is considered sacred ground and soldiers from all of our wars are represented there. It was started during the Civil War. The ground used to start with was part of Robert E. Lee’s mansion. They confiscated the land and used it for burials. Every tombstone is exactly the same size,” Batten said.
“The Changing of the Guard was really impressive. When we got there, one of the guards was from Iowa around the Des Moines area,” Lindsay said.
“The Changing of the Guard had to be the most impressive action shot I saw as they passed the weapon off to the next group,” Pritchard said.
The memorials for the specific conflicts the three men served during also carried a great deal of emotional significance.
Batten served in the United States Army from November 1968 to August 1970. He served in Vietnam during 1969.
During that year, Batten said four members of his unit were killed in action. They were Cpl. Don Larry Atkins of Cedartown, Georgia; Sp4 Marvin Edward Park, Bedford; Sp4 Raymond Kyle “Pudge” Dismukes, Birmingham, Alabama; and Sfc Clifford Montgomery, Louisville, Kentucky.
“Atkins and Park were killed during my first combat experience on Mother’s Day, May 12. Dismukes died Nov. 25 and Montgomery died Dec. 23,” Batten said.
Batten was able to locate the names of all four soldiers on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He also had charcoal rubbings of the names.
“It was part of my closure. When I found out I was going, I knew I had to do that. I wanted to pay tribute to them,” Batten said.
Batten and Lindsay also found the name of David Campbell of Clarinda engraved in the Vietnam Memorial He was killed in action in May 1968. Batten had another rubbing done of Campbell’s name, while Lindsay took a picture.
“I knew David from my childhood,” Batten said.
“He was one year older than me and my sister’s classmate,” Lindsay said. “Even if you don’t know anyone personally on the wall, it’s a humbling feeling to be there.”
Meanwhile, visiting the Korean War Memorial was impressive for Pritchard. The memorial features statues of a platoon on patrol. The first time he saw the memorial, Pritchard said there was fog that added to its ghostly atmosphere.
“I had a high school classmate, Kenny Davenport, that went to Korea, and was only in country three days before he was killed in action. He was right there with me and I was thinking of him. He never had the chances I’ve had to appreciate things in life,” Pritchard said.
All three veterans were also moved by the size and power of the United States Marines Corps War Memorial. The memorial depicts the raising of the United States flag at Iwo Jima.
“The Iwo Jima memorial was very, very impressive. It is the symbol of the Marine Corps today for all the battles they have fought in and the huge loss of life on Iwo Jima,” Batten said.
“That is one big memorial,” Lindsay said.
“The Iwo Jima memorial was massive. As you walked around that thing and got different perspectives, at one point the flag looked like it was straight up and down,” Pritchard said.
After the whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., the two flights returned to Des Moines Tuesday night. Several spouses, relatives and members of the hotel staff were waiting to greet the group when they arrived at their hotel.
“This was my first trip to Washington, but I plan on going back some day,” Batten said.
“I told my wife I would like to go back and spend some more time there rather than being on such a tight schedule,” Lindsay said.