CUBA CITY—Veterans are sometimes reluctant to take advantage of the Honor Flight program, which was generated specifically to provide veterans an opportunity to see the national memorials created to honor their service to the United States.
Al Kern of Cuba City was one of those veterans.
At the persistence of his daughter-in-law, Kate Kern, he applied for the opportunity and was able to make the trip in September.
“I’ve never been sorry,” Al Kern said. “It was a very worthwhile trip.”
He was most amazed at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I visualized it as a big field, but there are graves all over on the hillsides, down in the valleys,” Kern said. “There are over 300,000 people buried there.”
He also was enamored at the changing of the guard for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“It’s something to see the way the three people are involved,” Kern said. “Everything is done with precision.”
Kern said it was a long day, but the trip was worth it. He was amazed at how organized everything is and how many people work to make it happen for so many deserving veterans.
“At the end of the day I was tired, but it was worth it,” Kern said. “It brought back a lot of memories.”
Kern served two years in the Navy near the end of the war. He said his dad knew the head of the draft board, who told him when his number would be up for the draft. It gave him the chance to enlist before being drafted in 1945.
“I was scheduled to go to Norman, Okla., for the Airforce,” Kern said. “Of course, when I got there, they closed it. They just shuffled me around from base to base until I got to the Great Lakes, which is where I was discharged. I saw a lot of the country. I didn’t gain much. I shouldn’t say that, but I didn’t. I just lost two years. It was something I had to do because I had three brothers in the service.”
Kern said he was probably one of the most fortunate guys he knows of.
“I ended up in New Orleans, and there were four of us guys who wanted to be on a ship. That’s what we went in the Navy for,” Kern said. “We went to see the commanding officer, and of the four guys they appointed me to be the one to talk to him about getting on his ship. I went up to him and [asked to be transferred onto the ship]. He slammed his fists on the table and said, ‘I’ll give you a ship. Now get the Hell out of here.’ Here we were just young guys and when someone tells you to get out of there, you get out of there.”
The next morning Kern got his orders to report to a Naval station in Chicago. He boarded a train and when he arrived in Chicago two men were waiting for him in a station wagon.
“The guys were kidding me all the while that I wasn’t going to like this duty,” Kern said. “Here they assigned me to an admiral’s yacht. Admiral Nimitz was in charge of the Naval Training Station in the Great Lakes.”
Kern arrived at his post in the winter when the boat was covered. He was stationed on he boat, which had its own bedrooms. He said the admiral never used the boat. In the summer months the boat would be tied up on the Great Lakes. Some of the admiral’s officers would sometimes use the boat to go swimming.
Kern said he was paid $57 a month. He was stationed at that yacht for over a year before he was discharged.
In World War II there were over 16 million Americans who served in the U.S. military. America is losing almost 1,000 members per day of that Greatest Generation. In 2004 the World War II Memorial was completed and dedicated on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C.
“Kellie Randall sure has a place in my heart,” Kern said. “She really took care of me that day.”
Randall had signed up to be a guardian for the Honor Flight program to assist her father, Harland Randall, a Korean War veteran. Unfortunately, her father passed away less than a month before the flight. Instead she was paired with Al Kern for the day’s activities, which started at 5 a.m. in the Grand River Center in Dubuque and wrapped up at that same location late in the evening. Kern said he arrived back home after 11 p.m.