Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Honor Flight: One of the most memorable days of my life

Bob and Ron Drenzek meet Senator Bob Dole.
The first of a group of flights dubbed “Operation Parallel” successfully took more than180 veterans to see their memorials on Sept. 12.

The veterans were joined by their guardians and 25 additional volunteers in Washington, D.C., to see the Korean War Memorial, WWII Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Operation Parallel is a nod to the fact that the Korean War was fought over the 38th parallel. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight was sponsored by We Energies.

Ron Drenzek, father of We Energies employees Bob and Dan Drenzek, was on the Sept. 12 flight. Bob accompanied Ron on the flight.

Ron wrote a letter to We Energies to share his thoughts on the flight:

Dear We Energies,

Christmas of 2014, my family let me know that as my present, they signed me up for the Honor Flight, something which I probably would never have done on my own. Turns out, it proved to be one of the most memorable days of my life.

My fear of going on the flight was that it would bring back some memories of terrible events that happen in wars. This flight did not do that. Instead, it made me recognize that the United States is the greatest country in the world because of the great people who composed it. Also, it allowed me to mingle with other veterans, and we met thousands of people who took the time to thank us for our service. 

Ron (red hat) salutes with his fellow veterans.

Something I think that is noteworthy is during this brief time of meeting with other veterans, there was no talk about the war or the battles we were in. Most of the conversations were about where we were from and about our families and how great the Honor Flight was treating us.

The most humorous thing that happened was the number of meals we received during the day.

1. 6:00 a.m. After checking in but before boarding the plane, we had a medium-sized breakfast.

2. 7:30 a.m. In flight to Washington, they gave us another breakfast in a box.

3. 12:00 p.m. After getting off the plane at Dulles airport, we received a box lunch on the bus on our way to Washington.

4. 6:00 p.m. After walking through all the Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery, we received a BBQ box lunch on the bus trip back to Dulles airport.

5. 7:30 p.m. Upon boarding the plane for the return trip, we received a dinner in a bag.

They made sure no one became hungry during the day.

When we arrived to tour the memorials, there was heavy rain falling for about an hour, so my guardian – my son Bob – and I put on our raincoats and walked around the numerous memorials. All of them are very well done and worthy of representing the special event it represented. Naturally, I had a special interest in the Korean Memorial, which was a group of soldiers walking across a rice paddy. On one side of the memorial, there was a granite wall inscribed with hundreds of faces of our military persons. For some reason, I wasn’t overcome with emotion here, but if there had been a wall with names, and I saw names of my buddies etched into it, I’m sure I would have had a lot of tears.

The last place we went was to the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. It was a very solemn ceremony honoring the Unknown Soldier. It is something which I will never forget.

We flew out of Washington D.C. around 8:30 p.m. ET and arrived at Milwaukee General Mitchell about 9:30 p.m. The flight back turned out to be a lot more than uneventful. The Honor Flight people somehow arranged it so that each of the 183 veterans aboard received a huge envelope loaded with letters thanking us for our service. There were letters from people we never met, politicians, friends, neighbors, school children, businesses and most surprisingly, from each of my six children and 15 grandchildren. There were too many letters to read before we landed. This was the only time during this day that I noticed a lot of handkerchiefs drying many tears (and I thought these guys were big and tough).

Ron Drenzek opens letters on the return flight.
Finally, we arrived home and after some delay, we embarked and headed into the first concourse room. They kept us in single file so that we walked between two columns of at least 100 military persons in each column. The columns were made up of active, retired and reserve military, VA vets along with boy and girl scouts all standing at attention and holding a hand salute to us. It must have taken an hour to unload the plane, and they stayed at attention till the last man got off the plane. It was quiet during the entire time it took us to walk through this room. It was hard for us not to have tears running down our cheeks.

From there, we walked single file into the main concourse, which was filled with an estimated 3,000 people all screaming, “Thank You,” waving flags and shaking hands. We walked through a 6-foot-wide, roped-off corridor, which winded through all these beautiful people.

I hope that every veteran gets the chance to make the Honor Flight. It truly gives you another perspective of what you served for. 

Bob and Ron Drenzek in the 747 cockpit.
None of this could have happened if not for the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Inc. and Network. I understand everyone associated with this program is a volunteer. The word is that this particular flight cost thousands of dollars. All paid for with donations from numerous corporations and individuals.

Thank you and God bless the wonderful volunteers who made this event possible. It takes a real talented professional group of people to make it such a great success.

The proof of this is that I am not aware of even one complaint against the volunteers, and they were dealing with 132 grumpy old men and one woman.

Love to all the wonderful people who took the time to be there and thank us.

Also, a special thank you to the pilot of our plane who took pictures of me and my son Bob while we sat at the controls of the 747.

Ronald Drenzek

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