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Family and friends join veterans as guardians on Honor Flight

Published 5/28/2011 in Special Sections

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Garden City resident Michael Hoffman had never taken a commercial flight before he boarded the 172-seat Boeing 737 at the Garden City Regional Airport in April.

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Shajia Ahmad/Telegram Mike Hoffman Jr., an Army veteran from Garden City, poses for a family portrait at the National World War II Memorial. The World War II veteran's two sons, Rod from Lenexa, right, and Michael from Garden City, left, served as his guardians on the Washington D.C. trip.

Shajia Ahmad/Telegram Mike Hoffman Jr., an Army veteran from Garden City, poses for a family portrait at the National World War II Memorial. The World War II veteran's two sons, Rod from Lenexa, right, and Michael from Garden City, left, served as his guardians on the Washington D.C. trip.

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Photo courtesy of Rosemary/ Corbett Rosemary Corbett, Garden City, right, stands with Dan Curtis from the Great Bend-based Central Prairie Honor Flight. Corbett helped to bolster fundraising efforts in southwest Kansas that made the flight a reality. Corbett also served as a guardian for her father, Martin Huschka, Garden City, an army world war II veteran.

Photo courtesy of Rosemary/ Corbett Rosemary Corbett, Garden City, right, stands with Dan Curtis from the Great Bend-based Central Prairie Honor Flight. Corbett helped to bolster fundraising efforts in southwest Kansas that made the flight a reality. Corbett also served as a guardian for her father, Martin Huschka, Garden City, an army world war II veteran.

Sure, the 52-year-old lifelong resident had traveled on smaller two-seater or four-seater planes. But this gigantic aircraft was a whole new ballgame, he admitted.

"I didn't quite know how I would handle it," Hoffman said from his father's Garden City home. "I've been to Dallas, Denver, a couple of other places. But I've always figured if you got to go anywhere, you drive."

Hoffman said he never guessed he'd one day get to see places like the National Mall in Washington D.C., the White House or the Pentagon, or Fort McHenry, a historic battle site in the harbor of Baltimore.

All were stops along the Garden City Honor Flight that departed April 18, carrying nearly 100 western Kansas World War II veterans to the country's war memorials, and about 85 guardians, who paid their own way and volunteered to push wheelchairs, carry bags and assist the often frail veterans on the brisk, two-day tour in and around the nation's capital.

Hoffman served as a guardian for his father, Mike Hoffman Jr., who is 94, and joined his brother, Rod Hoffman, a Lenexa resident and a former Garden City mayor.

About a fifth of the World War II veterans on the Garden City Honor Flight were between the ages of 90 and 94. And most all were older than 85, according to the organizers.

And as much as it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the veterans, it was an equally rare and unique experience for the sons, daughters, grandchildren and other family members or friends who served as guardians.

Hoffman said among the war memorials they visited at the National Mall in Washington D.C., he was most moved by the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.

At the Korean War Veterans Memorial, a circle intersects with a triangle, inside which 19 stainless steel statues depict a squad on patrol and evoke the experiences of American ground troops in Korea. The better-known Vietnam Veterans Memorial that receives around 3 million visitors each year is made of two dark-stone walls, sunk into the ground, with the Earth behind them.

"I can still see the guys climbing those hills (at the Korean War memorial), looking at the fright in their eyes. Those statues took something out of me," Hoffman said. "Never having been in the service, only hearing stories from my dad, I could begin to imagine what war must have been like. ... At (the Vietnam Veterans War) memorial, you see name after name after name. It makes you realize there are a lot of good people who are no longer around."

At the Arlington National Cemetery, another stop along the two-day journey, endless rows of white headstones cover the expanse that's more than 600 acres of lush green hills and fields, where veterans and military casualties from each of the nation's wars are interred. They range from the American Civil War through to the current military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"That was heartbreaking, to see all those (tomb) stones," Hoffman said.

And it wasn't only the sights and sounds of the excursion, but its very purpose, too, that stirred some volunteers.

Rosemary Corbett, also from Garden City, served as a guardian for her father, Martin Huschka, a World War II veteran who is 91 years old.

Corbett, who helped to spearhead the fundraising efforts as part of the Honor Flight Committee, said she regretted not being able to visit with all 92 veterans during the journey.

"If that's all they ask of us, they deserve that and they deserve to see it," Corbett said. "My favorite part of the flight was just seeing their smiles — that was priceless."

Hoffman echoed similar sentiments.

He said seeing strangers, students on field trips to Washington, D.C., and other random passersby who stopped to chat and to listen a little with the veterans was awe-inspiring and meaningful even to him.

"Even if it didn't mean much of anything to the kids, it meant something to the veterans — they deserve that," he said.

For Liberal resident Linda Miller, that, too, was the highlight of the experience.

"A lot of travelers came (to the veterans) to say thank you. And that overwhelmed me," she said.

Miller, a director of social services at Southwest Medical Center in Liberal, volunteered to be a guardian on the Honor Flight out of Garden City even though she had no family or relatives on the trip.

Instead, Miller's father, a World War II veteran, took an Honor Flight out of southeastern Minnesota, where he and other family members live, she said.

"My thought was, 'if I could help somebody's dad coming out of here, maybe somebody could help my dad over there,'" Miller said.

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Found 1 comment(s)!

Honor Flight

My dad passed in 1998. He would have loved this. He really didn't talk much about the war, but the group he was in had reunions and he went to every one as health would permit. He kept in contact with them until he died. Mother also did until she died.

Posted by: Pat Briggs on 11/12/2011