Honor Flight Coverage: Never Forgotten Honor Flight Veterans Rest Home Safely

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Up in the air on their way, the veterans had a front row seat down memory lane.

From surprising Chief James Garske at the Washington D.C. Ronald Reagan Airport, to tears welling up in the Radtke brother's prideful eyes.

"It's emotional," "Perch" Virgil Radtke said.

"It really can't get much better," Melvin "Mel" Radtke said.

"I never expected it to be this well done," Virgil said. "It's really good, us together, It's extra special."

The 93 14th Never Forgotten Honor Flight veterans used the trip to reflect and feel appreciated.

The Lincoln Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, World War II Memorial and National Air Force Memorial were only four of 13 different monuments and memorials they saw.

For Rodger Hass, it brought him back to atomic bomb testing during the Korean Conflict, which he said he still suffers from radiation overdose.

"There was a rail road car two miles from the shot.," Hass explained. "There was a tanker, and it (the explosion) blew the tank a half mile off the tracks. That was really something to see."

The trip reminded Gene William "Baby Billy" Huff of his past duties as a combat engineer when he served in the Korean Conflict.

"No matter what they tell you to do, you do it and you don't give them any argument," Huff said.

Their welcome home reminded them of their support, how much love America has for them and how they'll never be forgotten for their service.
The Only Woman Flies With Honor Flight, says Gender Doesn't Matter

Monday's flight had more Korean Conflict veterans on board than ever before. And while almost all of them were men, there was one woman on board: Kay Johnson.

Johnson looked across the stone faces of those who made a decision to fight and had fallen at the Korean Conflict Memorial.

"It's (the memorial) spooky to me it really is," Johnson said. "It's so beautiful and so real. You can almost feel them moving across the land."

Johnson, the only woman on the 14th Never Forgotten Honor Flight, thought back to an old time.

"I was sworn July 23," Johnson said. "I only weighed 100 lbs, and you had to weigh 116 in order to get in. They gave me three weeks, and I got in."

Johnson joined the Navy in 1954 and served time in the Korean Conflict.

"It was a very good path for me," Johnson said. "It was something I wanted to do since i was about 10."

She said she started medical core school when she joined.

"There were 9,000 bed hospitals and 20 WAVES," Johnson said. "The ratio was tremendous. I still married a sailor."

As moments came back to veterans at the memorial, across the way 13-year-old Emma Rafatjoo learned for the first time with her 8th grade class from St. John's Episcopal School from California.

"I didn't know much about the Korean War," Rafatjoo said. "But when I read that (the memorial), I was like 'wow.' We wanted to help them even though we didn't even know them. That's was pretty moving."

Rafatjoo said she looks up to women who serve like Johnson.

"It's (women serving in the military) rare," Rafatjoo said. "You don't see it that often, but when you do, It's pretty amazing."

Of the more than 1,300 veterans who've flown on this flight out of central Wisconsin, only about 15 women have gotten to fly. But, to Johnson, being the only woman doesn't matter.

"I find out i'm the only woman out of all these men and I said i'll take these odds any day," Johnson said as she laughed.

To her gender didn't matter the, and it doesn't matter now.

"You're under the umbrella of being a veteran," Johnson said. "I just feel like one of them."

But what does matter, is when she looked out on faces who served at the Korean Conflict Memorial in Washington D.C. It's the service that makes life possible today for her and America.
Family Brings Tears to a "Hardened Veteran's" Eyes

"We're all ready," Diane Garske said. "My sister is probably already crying."

The Garskes gripped signs made from the heart for someone who fought with all of his. Chief James Garske was about to get a surprise welcome in Washington D.C. on a flight that will never be forgotten.

"A hardened old veteran had tears in his eyes," James Garske said.

Garske served in both the Vietnam War and Korean Conflict.

His family from Virginia, California and Washington D.C. surprised him when he got off the plane with proud tears.

"To land here, it was hard," James Garske said. "The tears didn't stream down, but the tears came anyway."

There's no doubt the airport was filled with emotion, not a dry eye in the house. However, these vets are proud and so are those who've supported them.

Now, the veterans celebrate.

"They finally get the recognition they deserve," Diane Garske said.


Monday marks the 14th Never Forgotten Honor Flight, flying 93 veterans from this area to Washington D.C. to see their memorials.

Veterans, their families and flight guardians gathered for a pre-fight dinner to prepare for tomorrow's journey.

Longtime friends Rodger Hass and Larry Nowacki sit and catch up and laugh, but their 28-year-old friendship isn't the only thing that binds them together.

"I was only 19 when I went in," Hass said looking at Nowacki, "Hold old were you?"

"When I went into service?" Nowacki asked, "20."

The selfless devotion to our country brought 93 veterans and 58 guardians to a pre-flight dinner Sunday night.

The Never Forgotten Honor Flight is a special trip to our nation's capitol that sends vets for free.

Never Forgotten Honor Flight President and co-Founder Mike Thompson said the trip helps surface great memories for some veterans.

"A lot of things come out," Thompson said. "They're with their veteran friends. There's a lot of camaraderie."

Thompson said the trip helps other veterans remember comrades who had grim endings.

"When they visit a memorial, they think back to a time," Thompson said. "They may of lost some friends, some good buddies and that's hard."

There's about 93 Korean conflict veterans, a couple WWII veterans and a Vietnam War veteran going on the trip, marking the heaviest concentration of Korean Conflict veterans they've ever had.

No matter which war they fought in, and which conversation they choose to have while on the flight., Sunday brought veterans back together again.

It prepped them for a trip that will have them proud of what it is that keeps them in the brotherhood for life: service to our country.

"We're all so appreciative," Nowacki said. "That's the important thing."

NewsChannel 7's Hannah Anderson and photographer Desiree Fischer will be on the trip Monday and will bring you along with them all day, reporting live from Washington D.C.

For extra coverage, Hannah Anderson will post extra videos, photos and more on her Facebook page: Hannah Anderson WSAW.

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