For Caledonia couple, Freedom Honor Flight was memorable experience

Tom and Manon Hoscheit of Caledonia served as guardians during the most recent Freedom Flight to Washington, D.C. Photo by Charlie Warner

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

On Saturday May 12 a Freedom Honor Flight left from La Crosse to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.  Freedom Honor Flight is a La Crosse-based organization founded in April of 2008.  Their goal is to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials that stand in their honor.   This was the ninth Freedom Flight since the program began in 2008.

All veterans on a flight are accompanied by trained volunteer guardians, who assist veterans for the day.  On this particular flight, area residents Tom and Manon Hoscheit volunteered their time and money to go along as guardians, assisting elderly World War II veterans as they toured the various War Memorials of Washington D.C.  Tom and Manon paid $500 each to be on the flight.

The day trip left at 7 a.m. and returned home at 11 p.m.  “It’s hard to believe you can fly that far and be back in your own bed in one day,” said Tom.

The Hoscheits praised those who organized and planned the Freedom Honor Flight, commenting how it is a huge undertaking. Everything is planned out for a single day, with six stops at the various memorials. In addition to guardians like the Hoscheits, the flight has a number of nurses and paramedics. Once in Washington D.C. the veterans’ bus is given a police escort all day long, allowing them to breeze through traffic. The police escorting the veterans are off duty and are simply donating their time.

On this particular trip the Hoscheits guided veterans through the Lincoln Memorial, witnessed the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery and visited the Vietnam Wall, Korea Memorial, and the highlight of the trip, the newly completed WWII Memorial which only opened to the public eight years ago.

The WWII Memorial is made up of a series of columns, one for each state and arranged in the order the state joined the Union. Veterans from the Freedom Flight presented flags for their home states. Because the World War II Memorial was completed recently, many of the veterans have never seen it. The memorial is located between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument near the reflecting pool.

“I don’t think they could have placed it in a better location,” said Tom. For the Hoscheits the trip has personal meaning, as Manon’s father, Ellsworth Klug, was a WWII veteran.

“My dad was a Pearl Harbor survivor,” explained Manon. “He died six years ago and we thought it would be a nice way to honor him.”

Ellsworth Klug remained at Pearl Harbor following the attack on Dec. 7, 1941 to help fix the runways and planes damaged. He was then deployed to the Solomon Islands to end his tour.

For the Hoscheits, it is stories like this that made the trip worth it.

“You’re encouraged to listen to the stories of the veterans,” explained Tom, “We liked hearing the stories.” Tom was particularly impressed by the story from an Eau Clair veteran who enlisted immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I had heard stories of men doing that, but I had never met anyone who had actually signed up.”

The group spent time at other War Memorials as well and each left an impact.  “Each war memorial was different, as they should be,” said Manon.

“You can’t realize what they gave up for our freedom,” said Tom.  Manon was quick to say the same was true of all soldiers currently serving in the military.

When asked about their favorite part of the trip, the Hoscheits agreed they enjoyed seeing these men come off the flight with smiles on their faces.

“I was in total awe on how the veterans were greeted,” Tom explained. “A lot of people of all ages were clapping for them when we got off the flight in Washington and others were thanking them for their service all day long. It didn’t matter which memorial we visited. There were families, and teenagers, all thanking them for their service, total strangers who were all completely sincere in their thanks.”  The Hoscheits estimated that the veterans from the flight must have shook 150 hands that day.

While the entire trip was tiring the Hoscheits are not opposed to someday serving as guardians again.

For others interested in serving as guardians there are two flights that leave from La Crosse every year. The next flight is scheduled for September.