It's a trip of a lifetime for our nation's heroes. On Monday more than 90 local vets will take off on the 14th mission of The Never Forgotten Honor Flight. While the trip is free to veterans, guardians do have to pay for the honor of escorting them. But thanks to one Merrill business, a local vet and his guardian will both take the trip for free.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room as family, friends and the staff of Waid Funeral Home in Merrill surprised Korean War veteran Donald Radloff with a sponsorship for his trip on The Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
"When I got discharged in Seattle in 1954, they told us you guys go out that gate, you get out of that uniform as fast as you can. You're not welcome. That's what we were told. So this is something," Radloff said choking back tears as he spoke to those who came out to surprise him.
While Radloff already knew he had been chosen for the flight, he didn't know he was being sponsored.
"[I'm] very happy. Quite a, almost like a homecoming. Not everybody gets that," Radloff beamed.
Radloff thought he was going to the funeral home to discuss his final arrangements, but when he and his wife walked in... surprise!
"I just thought there was somebody having a party out here," Radloff laughed.
In September, the funeral home held a polka service to raise money to pay for Radloff's guardian, typically a $500 expense.
"I've heard about the Honor Flight and heard how heartwarming it was," event organizer and collection coordinator Judy Plamann explained. "I thought it would be good to give back because they give so much to us."
Since then Judy Plamann and Radloff's wife have been keeping the surprise a secret.
Jim Campbell is the co-founder of The Never Forgotten Honor Flight. He says while the enjoys surprising all the veterans, surprising Radloff was particularly meaningful for him.
"This is especially important to me I guess because this is where I grew up," Campbell told NewsChannel 7.
Now that Radloff's recovered from his surprise, he's looking forward to Monday more than ever.
"Mostly being with the veterans and then seeing the World War II [memorial]. The Korean Wall, that was mine. But the World War II is really what gave us our freedom," Radloff said with tears welling up in his eyes. "Before that we wouldn't have it."
On Monday, Radloff will be traveling with a few buddies of his. One of his friends son-in-law will be his guardian. Something he says he's very grateful for.
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