Honor Flight changes view of service

Volunteers holding flags line the St. Cloud Airport and welcome the dozens of Central Minnesota veterans embarking on the latest Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the war memorials.

Two area veterans recently participated in Honor Flight, a non-profit effort to honor veterans by transporting them to Washington, D.C. to visit and tour the war memorials. WWII veteran Larry Reed and Korean War-era veteran Warren Sjoberg embarked on the journey April 28.

“I had a little problem with even deciding to go on this trip,” Reed said. “My military career was one year and 26 days and I spent all of it in the United States. Until I went on this trip… I came back with a different perspective.”

Reed and Sjoberg learned of Honor Flight while at a meeting of the Eastern Star masonic lodge in Princeton.

“It came up and it was convenient and the timing was perfect,” Reed said. “So we both applied and we were both accepted.”

The pair woke early that  cold, spring morning to begin their trip at the St. Cloud airport.

“That’s what started changing my mind,” Reed said. “We walked into the airport and all these people were there at 4:30 in the morning, and they were thanking us for our service. I didn’t have any war stories, but they didn’t care. And we got the same treatment at every stop in D.C.”

The former third-class Naval lieutenant, Reed has always compared his military service to those who were serving in the front lines on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima.

From January 1945 to July 1946, as a mess cook at an airbase in Trenton, N.J., a photography striker  (“I didn’t do anything there besides sit in a photography lab by myself,” he says) and a supply ship escort who later decommissioned destroyer escorts, Reed has long believed his service wasn’t anything special.
“Most of the time there I worked on the liberty launch and my job was to shuttle them back and forth from the dock,” he said. “So I had great liberty.”
But his trip with Honor Flight has given him new view of his time in the U.S. Navy. Postponing major life events for more than a year while one serves his or her country is no small sacrifice. Ensuring supplies and fellow service members reach their destinations safely and performing necessary duties stateside is important. Soldiers and seamen don’t choose the mission. And the people who offered smiles, hugs, handshakes, signs and flags along the trip solidified those notions for Reed.

“I was accepted by everyone,” he said.

Sjoberg has a similar story, but from a very different theater. As a member of an Army-Airforces artillery outfit attached to an aviation unit stationed in Germany from 1954-1955, he wore several different hats.

“I was a co-pilot, mechanic and spotter,” he said. “Yeah, we had to do everything. I was in Germany at the height of the Cold War. The Korean War had ended by the time I finished basic training.”
During their trip to the nation’s capital, the two men enjoyed seeing the memorials erected in their and fellow veterans’ honor.

“It was really something,” Sjoberg said. “I’ve been all over Washington, but it was fun to get back there. A lot of it was brand new — all those memorials weren’t there before.”

“Seeing all these people greeting us and thanking us was so impressive,” Reed added. “And it being a Saturday, there were so many people there.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, June 14 print edition of the Times.