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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

After two days, Honor Flight veterans, students return

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

After a packed, two-day Honor Flight trip, veteran Mel Page and guardian Rebecca D'Attoma step off the bus Monday evening to be greeted by family and friends at Prairie View High School. (Photos by Roger Sims/Linn County Journal unless noted.)

Update: Thanks to Honor Flight sponsor Stephanie Nichols, we've added a gallery of photos, including some from mail call, at the bottom of the story.

Led by an American Legion motorcycle escort and tucked between La Cygne Police Department and Linn County Sheriff’s Office vehicles with emergency lights flashing, the yellow school bus pulled into the Prairie View High School (PVHS) parking lot at dusk on Monday, June 5.

A group of tired-but-happy veterans, students and faculty sponsors stepped down from the bus and were welcomed by a group of nearly two dozen friends, family and well-wishers. It was the end of a quick, two-day trip to Washington, D.C., by Prairie View’s first group of Honor Flight recipients and their student “guardians.”

The group from Prairie View joined a group of veterans and students from six other area schools, including Central Heights High School which sponsored the trip with their connection to the national Honor Flight organization.

The voyage of the 108 participants in that six-school group began in the early hours of Sunday morning, flying into Reagan International airport as residents of the nation’s Capitol were just beginning their day. A warm heroes’ welcome by as many as 200 people at Reagan International set the tone for two days full of tours and events for the group.

The group of tired but inspired veterans, guardians, and sponsors return Monday evening from a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., on the first Honor Flight sponsored by Prairie View High School. The group from left included sponsor Stephanie Nichols, veteran Richard Cornelius with guardian Kimball Uphoff, Ronald Ream with Reaghan McCarthy, Robert Burnett with Shawna Case, Kinsley Beattie with Kenneth Niesz, and Mel Page with Rebecca D'Attoma. Co-sponsor Tracy Konda was not available for the photo.

The student guardians were paired with veterans, who they would help throughout the two-day tour. And from their account, while the student-veteran pairs bonded through the experience, the whole Prairie View group bonded as a whole as they worked to make the experience memorable for each other.

Included in the tour were the World War II memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War memorial, the Lincoln Monument, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, and visits to the Marine Corps memorial that depicts the raising of the U.S. Flag on Iwo Jima. The group also attended the “Sea of White” ceremony honoring those who fought at the Battle of Midway at the U.S. Navy memorial on Sunday, June 4.

Richard Cornelius, a Paola resident, learned of the Prairie View Honor Flight participation when he attended a Veterans Day program at the high school. A Marine Corps veteran, he drives students from Osawatomie to Prairie View.

“It is unbelievable how they treated us,” Cornelius said about the group’s experience. “The kids and all of us had a ball.

Cornelius was paired with Kimball Uphoff, who said it was the first time he had visited the nation’s Capitol. Uphoff said it was a great experience.

On returning back to the La Cygne area, the group's bus was escorted the final few miles by American Legion motorcyclists, the La Cygne Police Department, and the Linn County Sheriff's Officer

Kinsley Beattie, guardian for Kenneth Niesz of Paola, graduated last month. She also spoke about the program at the La Cygne service less than a week before.

She said how she liked learning about history through the eyes of the veterans, and how their experience put the events of their time in perspective.

“We learned how history affected that generation,” she said.

Particularly moving for her was the greeting in Washington as they entered into the airport.

“When we first walked off the plane, everyone was cheering,” she said. She would learn from Vietnam veterans, however, that their greetings at airports when they returned from home from that war were often hostile and people in the crowd spat on them.

Reaghan McCarthy, a junior, was guardian for veteran Ronald Ream. She said the best part of the trip for her was connecting with the veterans and learning about history. She also said how everyone they met on the trip was very polite.

La Cygne Mayor Debra Wilson, left, addresses the travelers, family members and friends after the group's arrival.

“It was a really cool experience,” said Rebecca D’Attoma, a junior who was the guardian for Mel Page of Blue Mound. And while it was D’Attoma’s first visit to Washington, it was a second-but-better visit for the veteran she said she bonded with.

“It was a wonderful trip,” Page said, adding that D’Attoma did a good job of assisting him. “I saw a lot more this time.”

For Robert “Bob” Burnett, a Navy veteran, being able to attend the Sea of White ceremony was a thrill. Attended by top Navy brass and held at the recently constructed Navy monument, the ceremony had plenty of formal military pageantry.

He said that he and his guardian, PVHS junior Shawna Case, got along famously. “She’s a sweetheart; she really is,” he said.

It was a connection that Case said she shared. “We became close,” she said. “That bond will never break.”

A group of people dressed in Revolutionary War-era garb greet the veterans as they arrive at KCI. (Screen shot/Prairie View Honor Fight Facebook.)

Case who talked about the Honor Flight program at the La Cygne Memorial Day service less than a week before the trip, said that she learned much by being with the veterans on the tour.

While the tours around the Capitol began to blend together, Burnett said there was one event that really stood out to him: the dinner sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the dinner, the speaker reminded the veterans of an important part of overseas duty – the mail call.

Each of the veterans there received a manilla envelope with notes from their wives and family members telling them how proud they were of the veterans.

“There was not a dry eye in the house,” he said.

Once again as the veterans got off the airplane at KCI, they were greeted by loud applause at the terminal in honor of the sacrifice they had been willing to make.

“They treated us like kings, Burnett said.

Below are photos taken by Honor Flight sponsor Stephanie Nichols during the tour:

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