- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Jack Holland gazed at the hollow-eyed, terrified faces of the 19 fully-armed stainless steel warriors who make up the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

It wasn’t the first time Holland, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Korea from 1952 to 1953, visited his memorial, but Sept. 24 trip was certainly the most exciting. That excitement was met with mixed feelings.

“It’s a very emotional experience, it really is,” said Holland, of Hendersonville. “Kind of takes my breath away. It brings back sad moments.”

Holland lost 17 comrades he trained with while at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, a close-knit group that held reunions every four or five years after the war.

“I always think of those 17,” said Holland. “There were two young men. I remember their names vividly as if were yesterday. One was George Elliot and the other was Tom Hubbard.”

Because of their last names, Holland found himself side-by-side the two all the way through training. He said both Elliot and Hubbard had grown up together as boys. Within a month, both had died together in Korea.

“After all these years I still know exactly what they look like,” said Holland. “It makes me think they’re still here and maybe they are. I hope so.”

More than 36,000 Americans died in the Korean War, dubbed by its survivors as the “forgotten war.” Cast in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” that won World War II and coming before the more vocal veterans of the Vietnam War, Korean War soldiers met with little fanfare upon returning to America.

Holland was one of 77 Korean War veterans who flew from Asheville on Sept. 24 to visit Washington, D.C. as part of the Blue Ridge Honor Flight program. After a decade of flying World War II veterans to their memorial, this was the first flight for Korean War veterans.

“Whoever thought this would happen?” Holland said. “Literally it was the forgotten war. When we came back nobody even knew we came back. There was no fuss, no anything.”

The Sept. 24 flight marked the 10th anniversary of the first HonorAir flight to the World War II Memorial and the 500th Honor Flight made by American Airlines. The 181-passenger flight carried 102 veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars to Washington, with the remaining space filled by guardians and volunteers.

‘A beautiful day’

By 6 a.m., Asheville Regional Airport was filled with veterans ready to leave and supporters wishing them well. The flight took off around 8 a.m. and the plane landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by 9:30, greeted by a water cannon salute and flight crew outside waving American flags.

Upon stepping out of the gate, veterans were met with cameras, live music and a large crowd eagerly awaiting their arrival. It was a mixture of pre-planning by American Airlines and curious airport travelers. The trip was off to an emotional start as the veterans made their way through the crowd.

“I cried,” said Ed Frohling of Hendersonville, who fought in Germany during World War II. “It was so emotional to me and so overwhelming. The pure exuberance and joy that those people expressed that didn’t have to be there, but came.”

“It’s been a beautiful day so far,” said Bill Drossel, in tears after going through the crowd. The day had only begun.

Reunited

Led by a police escort, four charter buses departed from the airport and into Washington on their way to the World War II Memorial. Twenty-four of the 102 veterans served in World War II.

The visit was extra special for Henry “Hank” Ludlow, 93, of East Flat Rock, and Charles “Chuck” Ludlow, 91, of Pennsylvania. The two - who fought in France during World War II - hadn’t seen each other in two years.

Blue Ridge Honor Flight arranged for Chuck to drive to Washington to take the complete tour with his older brother. Chuck’s two daughters traveled with him, pushing father and uncle side by side in wheelchairs.

“As far as I’m concerned, just the fact that the two of us could get together” was the best part for Hank. “We had planned to fly from Asheville, but it was so much to drive to Asheville. His daughter volunteered to bring them down here. I was able to take the flight; it was a great flight.”

Going down to the memorial, the Ludlow brothers were thanked by a host of people young and old, including former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, for their service and pulled aside for photo ops. They eventually made their way across the memorial to the Atlantic arch, the theater the two brothers once fought on.

“It’s a wonderful memorial to the World War,” said Chuck. “I just hope that the ones who see that haven’t been in a war understand what war is.”

A war not forgotten

The next stop was the Korean War Memorial. It was the moment Young Soo Lee, Fletcher resident and president of The Korean Association of Asheville, was waiting for.

Lee, who served in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, was asked to make the trip to Washington. Joining members of each service branch in the U.S. military, Lee hoisted the South Korean flag alongside the U.S. Colors during a ceremony at the Korean War Memorial held specifically for the veterans of Blue Ridge Honor Flight.

“This is my responsibility, this war,” said Lee. “I’m very proud to help the Korean War veterans.”

The ceremony was highlighted by the presence of U.S. Army General Vincent Brooks, current commander of United States Forces Korea, and Maj. Gen. Shin Kyoung-soo, South Korean defense attaché to the U.S.

Brooks, who had spent the last week in Washington, wanted to thank the veterans in-person before flying back to Korea. He said Korea remains in a condition of armistice and that armistice is tested every day, but the bond between the U.S. and South Korea still remains strong 66 years after the war began.

“It’s an extraordinary alliance and you should know that you were the foundation of that alliance,” Brooks told the veterans. “I want you to know that those who served today never forget that - that we are part of a long line of honorable, noble and courageous service. You are that service in the flesh.”

Kyoung-soo told the veterans how South Korea has developed into a top 10 economy, a top U.S. trading partner and one of the most innovative countries in the world.

“How is this possible? It’s because of your sacrifice,” he said. “It’s because of your dedication to protect my country and my people. The Republic of Korea and the Korean Army will not forget your sacrifice and your dedication.”

Marine Corps veteran Hilliard Staton helped place a wreath at the front of the memorial while members in the crowd from both countries gave a salute.

“It’s one more example of how much the Koreans actually do appreciate what we did, and they evidence this in so many ways,” said Staton, of Hendersonville. “They’re a wonderful people. To me it’s special simply because of how they are and what it all means, what we are and what we did.”

Before the ceremony, South Korea military officials gave each of the Korean War veterans a medal of recognition made of barbed wire from the Korean Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea.

A stop in Arlington

The trip included stops to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and Air Force Memorial. One of the last stops before heading back to the airport was Arlington National Cemetery. There at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, veterans witnessed the changing of the guard.

They also saw their own wreath marked with the words “Blue Ridge Honor Flight” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Aside from the guards, only four people were allowed on the sacred site at a time. Larry Rice, the trip’s lone Vietnam War veteran, did the honors of presenting the wreath, pushed in a wheelchair by his grandson, Brandon.

“I’m very honored,” said Rice. “When I was asked if I would be involved with the presentation of the flowers to the unknown, I said I would be very honored.”

Welcome home

From the first airport check-in until the wheels touched down again in Asheville, the veterans had about a 15-hour trip. If the rough landing didn’t wake them, the hundreds of people packing the Asheville Regional Airport to surprise them with a welcome home certainly did.

Veterans were first greeted at the gate by Gov. Pat McCrory and Congressman Mark Meadows. Led by a bagpipe player, the veterans walked out to the terminal to find former and current military, Scout troops, groups, friends, family and strangers alike forming a human tunnel through the airport.

“I knew it was going to be nice, but I didn’t realize how nice it was going to be and how much the people thanked us,” Wilfred Lack said after exiting the airport. “It was spectacular.”

For Jeff Miller, HonorAir founder and Hendersonville city councilman, it was another successful trip.

“I saw veterans leaving feeling appreciated, understanding that what they did made a huge difference, and they certainly felt respected,” said Miller. “That’s our biggest goal. It’s about respect. It’s about honor and that they’ll be remembered. I don’t think there was any question when they were going down that line.”

Blue Ridge Honor Flight will set off on its next voyage on May 13. For more information about how to get involved in Blue Ridge Honor Flight, make a donation or to get a veteran signed up for a flight, visit blueridgehonorflight.com.

___

Information from: Times-News, http://www.blueridgenow.com

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