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The last Honor Flight
Area World War II, Korea veterans go to Washington
Honor Flight Vietnam memorial
The Honor Flight participants got to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, among other sites. - photo by Photos Bob Edwards Photography

On May 20, a group of veterans from World War II and Korea flew to Washington, D.C., as part of the Dubuque Honor Flight.

That group included several participants from Southwest Wisconsin.

Lyle Habel of Platteville served in the Navy for, to be precise, “three years, 10 months and 16 days overseas.”

Habel joined the National Guard in 1949, six months before his high school graduation. He then joined the Navy Feb. 1, 1952, signing up at the Dubuque post office, and served until Dec. 16, 1955.

Habel served on two aircraft carriers, the USS Antietam, which sailed from the Panama Canal to Bayonne, N.J., then the USS Shangri-La, which sailed to Bremerton, Wash. His Korean War service was on a third aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, which patrolled the South Korean coast for 30 days at a time after the signing of the Korean peace treaty.

“We had to go there quite often, but nothing happened,” he said.

The last part of Habel’s Navy service was on the Japanese island of Kyushu.

Habel’s Navy service took place after the Korean War, while Bill White of Platteville served in the Army during the Korean War.

White’s first stint was from 1950 to 1953. He was a squad leader during basic training at Fort Riley, Kan., then was sent to Germany. He left the Army in 1953, but returned in 1955 because of a lack of jobs in this area, and was sent to Alaska.

Around the time Habel was leaving the Korean peninsula, Jack O’Neill of Platteville was arriving. O’Neill, an Army veteran, served from 1954 to 1956, the last year in South Korea, which experienced “a little apprehension is all” in the immediate past of the Korean armistice.

Honor Flight of Dubuque held its ninth and 10th flights May 19 and 20.

“I made up my mind, and didn’t tell anybody until I sent in the application,” said Habel.
The participants had an orientation meeting in Dubuque the night before their flight, with strict orders to be back the next morning by 5 a.m. for preflight security checks.

The group took three buses to the Dubuque Regional Airport, a Boeing 737 to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, and three buses to their Washington stops, accompanied by police escort.

“It was just like the war had ended,” said O’Neill. “They treated us like royalty. I don’t think anybody was disappointed.”

“It was wonderful — something I’ll never forget,” said White. “It really was nice. I met a lot of people I knew of from the area.”

The group got an official welcome at Dulles, and a reception upon their return to Dubuque.

Each Honor Flight participant was paired with another participant and a “guardian” to help the veterans get around. The trip included 55 wheelchairs.

Bill Grutz, who served in the Air Force from 1971 to 1975, was one of the guardians.

“I’d been trying to talk him into it for a couple of years,” he said. “He was one of the World War II guys — didn’t want to talk about it.

“Especially with the guys in the wheelchairs, we worked pretty hard all day.”

The group’s stops included the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, plus the Iwo Jima memorial, where a group photo was taken.

“We saw every monument in Washington, D.C., and the biggest share of the big buildings,” said Habel, including the Capitol, White House, Pentagon, FBI Headquarters, and Arlington National Cemetery, where the group saw the changing of the guard and spoke to the sergeant of the guard.

“It was a busy time, but nobody wanted to miss anything,” said Habel. “Everything was beautiful. We just hit the right day — no rain.”

“They kept you going,” said White. “It didn’t bother me; I’m in good shape.”

O’Neill, who had not been to Washington since he was stationed at Fort Mead, Md., was most impressed by “all the memorials and statues we saw. I was most impressed with the Vietnam memorial, all those kids on the wall, and I wonder if it was worth it.”

Grutz had never been to Washington before the Honor Guard trip. He and another guardian helped find the name of the guardian’s cousin, which is on the Vietnam memorial.

“I’d seen the Moving Wall when it was here, and it was more solemn here,” said Grutz.

When the group returned around 11 p.m., they were met by firefighters from the Tri-States, including Dickeyville and Lancaster, and 13 motorcycles.

After its ninth and 10th flights, Honor Flight of Greater Dubuque announced the group was disbanding after completing its mission to get World War II veterans to Washington. The group’s announcement said that leftover funds would go to area groups. Honor Flight hubs remain in Madison, La Crosse, Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities.