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Northland WWII veterans fly free to Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

One-Honor Flight Northland Logo courtesy of northlandsnewcenter.com

One-Honor Flight Northland Logo courtesy of northlandsnewcenter.com

One hundred World War II veterans living throughout the Northland will fly to Washington D.C. in May and view the Veteran’s Memorials free of cost. It’s all thanks to the efforts of Honor Flight Northland, a local non-profit organization dedicated to honoring Northland veterans for their sacrifices in the war.

The first one day trip is scheduled for May 14, 2011. The charter plane will fly through Sun Country Airlines out of the Duluth International Airport. The cost to fly one veteran is $600.

Volunteers are actively fundraising to secure a spot on the plane for every veteran eligible to go. Top priority is based on an application process and is given to senior veterans, World War II survivors and veterans who may be terminally ill.

Due to the high demand of applicants interested in the trip, more than forty veterans have been put on the waiting list.

“We are asking that they keep applying so that we can hopefully do another flight in the fall or spring of next year,” said Judy Greske, co-chair of the Honor Flight Northland Hub. “We want to raise enough money so that everyone can go.”

Ted Barker, an 88-year-old WWII veteran living in Duluth, has applied for this trip through the national organization, but has been unsuccessful. He says he is beyond impressed at the way people have supported the money-making projects here in the Northland.

“It’d be wonderful at my age, before I pass away, to see the memorial,” said Barker. “With my health problems, I don’t know if I will get the chance to go, but what a great tribute and honor it would be.”

Barker, a Duluth native and graduate of Morgan Park High School, served in the Army between the years of 1943-1946. He began his basic training in a camp near St. Louis for twelve weeks. He completed the Army Specialized Training Program at Kingston College in Rhode Island and traveled with the 78th Infantry Division to Camp Pickett in Virginia.

Ted Barker, a WWII veteran sits at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Memorial where he volunteers once a week. Barker is currently on the waiting list for Honor Flight Northland’s first flight to Washington D.C. Photo credit: Jennifer Walch

Ted Barker, a WWII veteran sits at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Memorial where he volunteers once a week. Barker is currently on the waiting list for Honor Flight Northland’s first flight to Washington D.C. Photo credit: Jennifer Walch

“When I got there, I found out they were going overseas, I figured I better train very hard,” said Barker.

From Virginia, he joined the 4165th Quartermaster Depot Company as a Buck Private. He traveled throughout Europe moving up in rank until he became 1st Sergeant to 176 soldiers and 14 officers.

Barker remembers feeling anxious and nervous about what would happen during his service term but says he was fortunate to never feel extremely threatened.

“My mother used to write me letters of concern when I was overseas,” said Barker. “I would tell her the only way I was going to get hurt is if a 50-pound sack of flour hits me on the head.”

Today, Barker lives with his wife and daughter in a home in Duluth. Each Wednesday, for the past seven years, he has volunteered as a greeter at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Memorial Center in Superior, Wisc.

Honor Flight Northland has a goal to raise enough money to bring each veteran interested to see their memorial.

“What it’s showing them is that we haven’t forgotten about them,” said Greske. “What they tell me when I call them and tell them they can go, is that it gives them a sense of closure and camaraderie with the other veterans that are going.”

Veterans that hold secure spots on the first flight are thankful for the opportunity Honor Flight Northland has provided.

“I am excited,” said Red Grover, a WWII veteran affiliated with the Local Honor Guard. “There will be guys that I maybe know from around, and maybe there will be some I’ve never met before. I really appreciate going there.”

In the future, Honor Flight Northland plans to fundraise money and schedule flights to include Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.

The Honor Flight Northland is still collecting donations.

Are you or anyone you know going to the memorial? We’d love to hear your stories in the comment form below.