One last flight

Published 12:11 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

As many as 1,025 World War II veterans die each day.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 38.4 percent of all living veterans are 65 or older.

Vietnam War veterans, the largest single group of former service men and women, are growing older, while the nation’s “Greatest Generation” grows closer to the brink of extinction with each passing year.

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Soon America’s oldest veterans’ war stories will grow silent.

Before that time comes, Dalvin Augustin wants everyone to know what a great time he had at the World War II Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He also wants every other WW II veteran to take an Honor Flight to the nation’s capitol to see the memorials to their contributions to America “while they can,” as he put it.

“I was 18 when I went in the service,” begins the man’s story. At the time he was finishing classes at Elkton High School and working on his family’s farm and hauling milk as a part-time job.

“I studied when I had time,” he joked.

Augustin had a choice when his draft notice arrived in the mail. “I could have gotten a farm deferment or gone to war and I chose to serve my country,” he said. “I wanted to go.”

Augustin was a medic in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He served in Germany and France.

When he talks about what he saw and what he did as an Army medic, he chokes up with emotion over six decades after treating the combat wounded. “It was awful. I will never forget it,” he said.

An older brother, Harold, served in the U.S. Navy. A younger brother, John, served in the Army during the Korean War.

When Augustin’s time in the U.S. Armed Forces was up, he returned home with an honorable discharge.

He married and he and his wife, Janet, had a family of four daughters and four sons.

Today, they also have 24 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

Augustin worked for 35 years at the Hormel Foods plant before retiring.

They have lived in their comfortable home along Eighth Avenue Northwest in Austin for more than 50 years.

‘Everybody should see this’

Augustin was one of 66 veterans, men and women, who took an Honor Flight April 19, 2008 to Washington, D.C.

“We had doctors, physician assistants, nurses and all the helpers we needed to make the trip. They treated us royally,” Augustin said. “The Mayo Clinic even donated 30 wheelchairs so we could get around to all the memorials.”

When asked what it was like to see the new WW II Veterans Memorial and all the others, once again Augustin choked up. “It was great,” he managed to say. “I just wish all those other veterans who served their county would go there and see the memorials.”

“That’s why I think it is so important to get the message out that they are doing such a nice thing for all the veterans by taking them to Washington on an Honor Flight,” he said.

Augustin plans to do his part beginning Tuesday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1216.

The VFW Post will host another monthly steak dinner from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Augustin, a VFW and an American Legion member, will be there.

With help from family and friends he has prepared a DVD of the 2008 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. and a tour of the WW II and other veterans memorials in front of the Washington Monument.

“They should see what it’s like. Everybody should see this part of our history,” he said before choking up once more.

“We all should see what they did for us while we can,” he added. “I couldn’t have made a trip like this without the help of the Honor Flight.”

A special way of saying ‘thanks’

Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices. Honor Flights transport veterans from all over the United States to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans — World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened America’s very existence as a nation and as a culturally diverse, free society.

Both the aging veterans’ time on earth and society’s opportunity to thank them for their service is running out judging by the unflinching — 1,025 WW II veterans die each day — statistics.

Two more Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. are planned this year from Rochester: May 2 and Oct. 10.

There is already a lengthy waiting list for the 80 seats per flight.

Team leaders and personal care attendants (one for every two veterans) also need to be recruited.

The two Honor Flights departing from Rochester in 2008 were the inaugural flights from the southeastern Minnesota hub.

New flight hubs are being established at Forest City and Mason City in Iowa.

Already, the waiting lists there number in the hundreds.

Only six months after another flight hub was established at La Crosse, Wis., the waiting list was more than 400.

For more information, go to The Web site has information about subsidies, applications and other frequently-asked questions, including how to make donations.

For information about helping the flights originating from Rochester this year or donating, call Rod Lee at (507) 282-1375.