Veterans cherish trip to memorial

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, November 11, 2008

If Peter M. Mathias could quit his day job, he would.

If every World War II veteran had the opportunity Jim Rogers had, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran would be a happy man.

Mathias would be willing to give up his job if he could devote all his attention to the Southeastern Minnesota Honor Flight project.

Email newsletter signup

“That’s what I would do,” Mathias said. “I’ve gone along on the flights as a guardian, and it’s such a rewarding and emotional experience for the guardians as well as our veterans who make the trip.”

“It’s something you don’t forget,” he said.

Rogers, an Austin World War II veteran, made the trip and he called it unforgettable.

Two Honor Flights have been sponsored by the twin organizations, Southeastern Minnesota Honor Flight and Soldiers Filed Veterans Memorial Committee, the first made last April 19 and the latest made Oct. 8 to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital.

In May 2004, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The veterans of that war represent a generation whose youngest member is now 78 years old. With a man’s average life expectancy at 74.4, it becomes increasingly difficult for World War II veterans to visit the memorial. Time is not on their side.

Honor Flight was initially conceived in 2004 by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired U.S. Air Force captain, to honor veterans he has taken care of for the past 27 years. Its sole purpose was to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices.

Today, Honor Flight has flown more than 800 World War II veterans to the memorial.

Many Mower County veterans have made the now once-in-a-lifetime trip.

According to Ted Adams of the Honor Flight project, the following Austin residents made the October trip: Jack Brennan, Benno Bissen, Donald Kofron, Vernon Bolstad, J. Hobart Belknap, Donald Krebsbach, Alfred Simon, Wallace Wobschall, Luther Meister and James Rogers.

“It was great to see the memorial,” Rogers said. “I’ve been to Washington before for my service reunions, but this trip was special.”

Rogers served with the Third Marine Division, First Battalion, Ninth Marines, during World War II. A combat infantry soldier, he was wounded, during the war in the South Pacific.

He spoke of his participation in the Oct. 8 Honor Flight on Monday, which also had special meaning to him. “That’s the birthday of the Marine Corps, and the day I was married,” he said.

His son, Robby, who lives in Rochester, advised his father of the opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial and helped him fill out the application.

“It was along day,” the veteran said, “We left early in the morning and didn’t get back until midnight to Rochester, but it was worth it.”

Rogers said what he also enjoyed about the trip was that it was made with friends, including Benno Bissen and Jack Brennan, a distant relative.

The day Rogers made the trip, other Honor Flights from northern Minnesota and Arizona also visited the memorial in D.C.

“We all had a great time seeing the new memorial,” he said. “It’s something I would encourage other veterans to do.”

Rogers brought back Honor Flight applications, and they are available at Austin American Legion Post No. 91 by contacting Roger Reller.

“The Oct. 8 flight, like the earlier one, was free of charge to the veterans as a way of saying ‘Thank you’ for their dedicated service to our country over 60 years ago,” Mathias said. “Funds needed to finance Honor Flight were raised in many communities throughout southeastern Minnesota through fundraisers, veteran and service club donations and private donations.”

Four able-bodied veterans accompany eight World War II veterans as their chaperones.

Many of the World War II veterans are in wheelchairs or use walkers. Some carry oxygen with them and require special attention because of their medical conditions.

“Veterans on the two flights we have made thus far came from a 65-mile radius of Rochester or essentially in the First Congressional District,” Mathias said.

Mathias is a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War (1971-74). He serves as treasurer of the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial, Rochester.

“The Southeastern Minnesota Honor Flight and Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial committees would like to take this opportunity to thank every one who in any way helped make the Honor Flights possible,” he said. “Your over-whelming support was greatly appreciated by the veterans and their families.”

Today, Mathias said there are more than 150 World War II veterans on a waiting list for the next Honor Flights scheduled in 2009.

The flights are tentatively scheduled to be made to Washington, D.C. in April and October next year.

Any veteran wishing to make an Honor Flight may obtain an appellation form at

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Honor Flight project may mail their checks to SFVM – Honor Flight, 201 Fourth Street Southeast, Room 150, Rochester, MN 55904.