By Craig Marx, Editor
Marvin Ecker recently came into the Antigo Times wishing to talk about his experience with the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, a program that provides veterans with a chance to see the memorials and monuments of Washington, D.C. at no cost. The immense opportunity took place on Monday, May 16th, when Ecker shared the experience with seven other veterans from Langlade County. It proved to be a once in a lifetime journey to see the sights of our nation’s capital with his fellow armed forces brethren.
“There were about a hundred of us – six Korean vets and 92 Vietnam Era guys,” Ecker said. “When we went to these monuments, there were other tour groups of seniors and tour groups of kids – everybody just coming up to us – honoring us and thanking us and shaking our hands.”
Ecker, 63, is a retired 3rd Class Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy’s Seabees during the Vietnam Era, where he was stationed at a remote yet fascinating post – a naval research base in Antarctica. The Langlade County native served his country from 1971-75. Ecker’s local Honor Flight companions included Ron Boerschel, Bill Hayes, Larry Boyle, Wayne Dieck, Tom Zaverousky, Kevron Schiro, and Pete Pennington.
The Honor Flights feature a one-day excursion to Washington that is packed with sightseeing, mingling, and a chance for the veterans to experience seemingly everything the capital has to offer, all in less than 24 hours. Departing Mosinee’s Central Wisconsin Airport at 7 a.m. and returning later at 10 p.m., the veterans were assisted by 52 guardians that accompanied the distinguished travelers on their patriotic pilgrimage.
“My guardian was supplied by the Honor Flight. He was one of the head honchos,” Ecker said of Richard Jarvis, treasurer on the organization’s board of directors. “It was just me and him. It used to be just one guardian for one veteran because there were so many handicapped and elderly guys, but now we’re getting down to us younger guys so they have one guardian to maybe two or three veterans. He was also our bus captain, and when we got back on board [the bus], he always had to take a head count. So he said ‘Sit right next to me.’ That meant I got to ride shotgun on the tour bus going all through D.C. taking pictures. That was totally awesome. I took tons and tons of pictures driving by [the sights] because we were on such a tight schedule.”
The busy day began as the veterans arrived in D.C. around 9:30 in the morning. Starting at the Lincoln Memorial, the weather could not have been more perfect for Ecker and his group.
“The weather was just awesome. It was in the mid-seventies and not a cloud in the sky,” Ecker said.
With the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials near to Lincoln’s statue, the Honor Flight members were able to spread out and take pictures at multiple different monuments within a smaller area. The veterans were then taken on a two-hour bus ride through the city, an opportunity that was aided by a police escort and Ecker’s prime seat for the tour.
Lunch and dinner were provided for the group by Arby’s, and the veterans spent the afternoon at the World War II Museum, Arlington Cemetery, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Pentagon, and the Air Force Memorial. The men also had pictures taken at the base of the Marine Corps War Memorial for Iwo Jima.
The 98 veterans also had a celebrity with them as they flew to D.C. and toured the city. John Kuhn, fullback for the Green Bay Packers, made the voyage with the men from Central Wisconsin as part of a documentary series showcasing both veterans and war letters sent home, covering the Civil War all the way to modern day operations.
The Never Forgotten Honor Flight program is based out of Wausau and was founded in 2009. All veterans, regardless of active combat experience but having served in WWII, Korea, or the Vietnam Era are eligible for the free sightseeing excursion to the capital. As of Ecker’s May 16th flight, the Never Forgotten contingent of the Honor Flight Network has flown 2,194 veterans and 1,284 guardians to see our country’s most treasured monuments and memorials and also pay their respects to fallen comrades.