Grand Forks crowd gives rousing welcome to veterans returning from Washington, D.C., on Honor Flight
Hundreds waited for the veterans to return to Grand Forks International Airport. And when the veterans emerged from the plane, they were greeted with a band playing patriotic music and a lively response from those in attendance.
GRAND FORKS – Craig Burslie, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Erskine, Minnesota, finally got the welcome home that he never received on his return from Vietnam decades ago.
Burslie was among 108 Vietnam and Korean war veterans who returned on the Veterans Honor Flight of North Dakota and Minnesota to Grand Forks International Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The flight had left Sunday, taking the veterans on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the nation’s military memorials and other historic landmarks.
This was the first flight since 2009 to leave from Grand Forks; most Honor Flights from North Dakota have originated out of Fargo.
Burslie, who was accompanied by his wife, Rosann, said he enjoyed “seeing the sights in D.C.” on the trip. But the visit to the Vietnam Memorial Wall may have been the most meaningful to him – the memory of standing before the wall brought him to tears.
“It was healing to see it,” he said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. “It was a very emotional trip. This was a lot of healing for me.”
When he and other servicemen returned from Vietnam, “we were looked down on,” Burslie said, noting that he appreciated “the camaraderie among the other vets (as they shared) stories of being in the service, serving our country.”
“This was a fantastic trip,” he said. “It would take two days to explain it to you.”
The veterans were welcomed by a crowd of hundreds, some of whom waved U.S. flags, held up balloons with U.S. flag images, and applauded as each vet descended the escalator from the second floor and walked through an archway bedecked with red, white and blue balloons.
Over the cheers of the crowd, the City Band played “The Armed Forces Medley,” a musical tribute highlighting the anthems of the military branches – Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines – and other patriotic tunes.
Glenn Pederson of Langdon, North Dakota, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was stationed in Germany. On the trip, he was most impressed by the Changing of the Guard Ceremony and Arlington Cemetery, he said. “That was tremendous.”
Pederson enjoyed “everything” about the trip, he said. “It was wonderful. And the volunteers were terrific.”
The group was accompanied by about 40 volunteers, including escorts with wheelchairs and medical personnel. “They kept track of us pretty good,” he said.
His daughter and son-in-law, Tammy and Tom Verke of Grand Forks, were there to greet him Tuesday. Tammy said her father was “beyond excited” to go on the trip, his first to the nation’s capital. “I’ve never seen him smile so much in my life,” she said.
She followed her father’s activities on Facebook Live, noting that the vets were treated “like gold,” she said. “It’s amazing what they do for these guys.”
Wearing a jacket with military symbols and carrying a U.S. flag, Mike Reidhammer of rural Larimore, North Dakota, was there to welcome a friend, a Vietnam veteran from Petersburg, North Dakota, back home. The enthusiastic community response did not surprise him, he said. It’s the feeling of “patriotism,” so prevalent in this area, that brought many to the event.
Richard Anderson of Fargo, who served in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War, said he enjoyed everything about the trip. He had never been to Washington, D.C.
“It was a really good trip,” he said.
More than 50 members of the Red River Valley Motorcyclists club were on hand to carry veterans, in golf carts, back to their parked cars. Lined up in front of the airport entrance, more than a dozen law enforcement vehicles, with their lights flashing red and blue, lit up the night.
Kathy Pearce of Manvel, North Dakota, and a long-time RRVM member, said the event, and the public display of welcome, “is so good for the soul.
“And they deserve one hell of a homecoming, because they didn’t get it before.”