The famous cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C. were blooming on March 30, their beauty adding to an already memorable day for Waterloo men Dale and Willard Schutt.
The two Army veterans were in the nation’s capital that day for an honor flight, a trip conducted by the nonprofit Honor Flight Network that allows veterans to visit war memorials and similar landmarks.
“We had a beautiful day,” Willard, who served in the Army during the Korean War, said. “Cherry blossom trees were blooming. There were a lot of people.”
The honor flight is free for the veterans, though their guardians on the trip must pay.
The two men were accompanied on the flight by their daughters, Sandy Benyo and Cindy Gregson, who began investigating the possibility of an honor flight for their fathers in June.
They were originally scheduled to go in September, but the honor flight was canceled as hurricanes approached the east coast.
They rescheduled the trip in March, but Willard said when he first learned what his daughter was helping plan he was shocked.
“It was a big surprise for me because I hadn’t pursued it,” he said. “I hadn’t heard much about it. I was surprised, overwhelmed.”
“It’s a big deal,” Dale added. “It’s an honor and you see a lot – all these monuments and museums.”
The honor flight the Schutt men went on lasted only one day, beginning with them arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport at 4:30 a.m.
They arrived at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
From there, they visited the World War II Memorial, Navy Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Women’s Memorial, Air Force Memorial and more.
Even with that packed itinerary, Willard said he wished the trip was more extensive.
“I wish we could have seen more,” he said. “I would have liked to get closer to the White House.”
Of the things they did, Dale, who served during peacetime of the Cold War, said his favorite part was the World War II Memorial.
“It’s huge,” he said. “You could see right across to the Washington Monument.”
Willard also liked that stop and the one at Arlington, with the changing of the guard being particularly noteworthy.
“The cemetery itself is huge and interesting,” he noted. “I’m not going to say it’s beautiful, but it was interesting.”
The men also both appreciated the people they encountered, such as the Naval Academy cadets and Boy Scouts at the airport or other tourists at the memorials.
“The way people accepted you when you got off the plan was unreal, with greetings and ‘thanks for your service,’” Willard recalled.
The people who made an impact on the 19 veterans who went on this honor flight were not all physically present, as they also received mail from friends, family and local schoolchildren during a mail call on the way back to the area.
For the Schutts, much of their mail came from students at Gardner Elementary School.
“They had a lot of them,” Willard said. “That was very interesting.”
“Special thanks to them,” Dale agreed.
By the time they arrived back in St. Louis, the men had experienced a memorable trip.
They credited the Honor Flight Network with making the whole thing efficient.
“The work these people put into it is unbelievable,” Willard said. “And they don’t miss a thing. It’s top notch.”
That work helped make the trip meaningful for the veterans.
“It was great,” Dale said. “It was impressive.”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Willard added. “When people start shaking your hand by the hundreds and saying ‘thank you for your service,’ I mean, wow. You kind of wake up and give it a lot of thought.”
To learn more about honor flights or donate to help more veterans go on these trips, visit honorflight.org.