WASHINGTON, D.C. — A kiss on the cheek. A handshake and a heartfelt “thank you.” Wreath-laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Vietnam Wall, Korean War and World War II memorials.
Those are just a few of the enduring memories created by 40 veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C., Saturday for a whirlwind day that includes visits to the war and military-branch memorials.
George Monnier, Del Yoho, Ralph Granger and Dick Hougen placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in an early morning ceremony that set the tone for the day.
Granger, of Sidney, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Korean War.
“I was an electrician in the reserves,” said Granger. “I was recalled when the Korean campaign began and I was stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.”
Granger said he was nervous before the ceremony at the tomb.
“I was very honored to be selected,” said Granger. “They asked me if I wanted to use a wheelchair and I said no, I wanted to be able to stand up straight there.”
“That was the highlight of the trip,” he said. He was accompanied on the trip by his daughter, Susan Geier, of Sidney. The family had talked about who would accompany him on the trip and his wife wasn’t sure if she could do all the walking that was required. His son, a Navy veteran, had just retired from Honda and was moving to Arizona, so his daughter came on the trip with him.
“We got a lot closer on the trip,” said Granger.
In addition to the wreath-laying ceremony, Granger said he liked the Navy Memorial.
“I had been in D.C. before all the memorials had been built,” he said.
Visiting the WWII Memorial was also very special.
“My oldest sister (Ruth Granger) was a nurse (in WWII). She was part of the dedication ceremony,” he said. “She represented the women who served in the military.”
Monnier, of Houston, served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was in the infantry and grave registration.
“After the war was over, we’d find the GI’s remains that were buried over there and identify them,” said Monnier.
He said it was an honor to be part of the wreath-laying ceremony.
“I had a wonderful time,” he said. “I liked the cemetery best of all. I liked to look at it.”
Yoho, also of Sidney, is an Air Force veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
“The wreath-laying ceremony was very humbling,” said Yoho. He recalled visiting Arlington National Cemetery when his children were little. He was very surprised on this return trip by the number of graves at the cemetery.
He said the entire trip was great and the people were very friendly.
He enlisted in 1944 and went into Air Force cadet training in 1945.
“The war (World War II) was slowing down and I was released in November 1945,” he said. He then went to college for two years on the GI Bill.
“I had no money and had met this ‘blue-eyed blond girl’ so I went into pilot training,” he said. He began his pilot training on July 1, 1948, and the couple were married,
After graduating, he spent the next three years flying and became a first lieutenant.
“I flew intercepts off the East Coast,” said Yoho.
Russia exploded an atomic bomb, he said, and in 1950 the Korean War started.
“My daughter was born on June 5 and the war started June 25,” he said. ”I got a phone call and I was sent to Bangor, Maine.”
There his mission was to sit in the cockpit of his plane and be prepared to shoot down any Russian plane to prevent a bombing in the U.S.
“We were told if we couldn’t shoot it down, then we were to take it down,” said Yoho. “We had no Russian bombers. All my intercepts were friends.”
Hougan had two special visitors Saturday. His granddaughter, Michelle Barth, and great-grandson, Zev Barth, 8, traveled to D.C. from Vermont to spend the day with him. Hougen was accompanied on the trip by his son-in-law, Brad Peak, of Kansas City.
“We’re going to trail the group,” said Barth. “We don’t get to see grandpa as much as we like and it was a short trip from Vermont.”
Hougen, who recently moved to Sidney to be closer to his daughter, Diane Anderson, said he was honored to be selected to part of the wreath-laying ceremony.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to participate,” said Hougen, who served during the Vietnam War in the Army,
Peak said the weekend was a wonderful learning opportunity and was a great experience, which started with the send-off in Sidney and the motorcade that escorted the buses out of town.
“I saw you (Hougen) waving your flag and I saw a tear come out of his eye,” said Peak. “It was great to see so many people who care so much.”
Peak said he learned about the trip on the Internet when he helped Hougen move to Sidney.
“I told Diane about it and we’ve been looking forward to it since January,” he said.
Peak said volunteer Jim Hall met and became friends with Hougen’s daughter.
“It’s thanks to Jim that we were able to put all the pieces together to make the trip happen,” Peak said. “He helped get me here from Kansas City and helped Diane get Dad prepared for the trip. Doing all those things made it possible for Dick and I to be able to go on the trip.”
Hougen, who was born in northern Wisconsin, lived all over during his time in the Army. He retired from the military.
“The group that has assembled here, we’re all good friends now,” said Hougen.
After the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, U.S. Army Spc. Isaac Redmond, of Gainesville, Florida, shared his experiences as being a member of the Old Guard, which protects the tomb 24/7 for 365 days a year.
“I appreciate the service you’ve done for your country,” Redmond told the veterans.
Redmond has been in the Army for two years and has been a guard for 15 months.
“In the World War I tomb, there is the body of an unknown soldier,” said Redmond. “In the World War II tomb, there is the body of an unknown soldier. In the Vietnam tomb, a body is no longer interred” because of the body was identified through DNA testing.
“We treat that tomb as if there was a body in it,” said Redmond. The Korean War tomb also has the body of an unknown soldier.
“Everything we do is to honor those unknown soldiers,” said Redmond.
Each guard, explained Redmond, spends five to six hours getting their uniform ready for their time of walking the mat. Around four hours of that time is spent polishing and working on their shoes.
All pins and medals are removed and replaced on the uniform.
“We measure them to 1/64th of an inch,” said Redmond. “We strive for perfection to honor those who gave up everything for us.”
To become a guard, the soldier must serve in the Old Guard, There is a six- to seven-month training period and nine out of 10 soldiers won’t complete the training.
“The standards to be a guard are high” said Redmond.
Redmond said there are three reliefs of guards. There are six to 12 people in each relief. Depending on how many men are in each relief will determine how many times they will walk the mat during the day.
“We walk for 30 minutes in the summer (before the guard is changed),” said Redmond. “We do the changing of the guard from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. when the cemetery is open,”
When the cemetery is closed, he said, a roaming guard walks around the tomb.
“We do our training at night,” he said.
Redmond said the number of wreath-laying ceremonies depends on how many groups contact Arlington National Cemetery to schedule a ceremony.
Redmond said each member of the guard has a notebook in which they write items down about the day’s work. Some of the items might include things that didn’t go correctly and will then be corrected before their next time to walk the mat.
Redmond was questioned about how the heels of one of the guards was not even.
“It might be a bad habit,” said Redmond, “if the heel was behind the other.”
The veterans could see Redmond mentally writing down this discrepancy to be addressed at the end of the day.
Redmond is stationed at Fort Meyer but when he reports to work he comes to the “Tomb quarters,” which is below the amphitheater.
“I’ll be walking the mat today (Saturday),” said Redmond. He was scheduled to walk 30 minutes after his talk with the veterans.
“We are trained to get into our uniform in three minutes or less,” said Redmond.
The kiss occurred at the World War II memorial when Elizabeth Dole, wife of veteran and former Sen. Bob Dole, took time to greet the visitors at the memorial.
When Butch Bergman approached Dole, she gave him a kiss on the cheek as a thank you for his service to his country.
“I told her I hadn’t been touched by a woman in 35 years and she immediately kissed me. She’s got a great sense of humor,” said Bergman, of Fort Loramie.
“She was very kind and she’s a very sweet person,” he said.”
“We’re here every Saturday,” said Dole. “My husband is here every week but today he is at the Kansas State Fair.”
“Thank you so much for your service,” Dole told the veterans. “I love meeting these heroes.”
Dole said her husband is 92 years old and loves coming out to the memorial.
The 17 names of Shelby County men who gave their lives for their country during the Vietnam War were read during a ceremony at the wall.
As the ceremony progressed, the crowd grew as visitors to the wall stopped to listen and record the moment via a photograph or two.
The six Korean War veterans placed a wreath at the Korean War Memorial. George Monnier and Del Yoho, World War II veterans. placed a wreath at the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial.
As Monnier was waiting to place the wreath, a couple from Belgium approached the memorial. As they talked, Monnier said he was stationed in Belgium and Holland and the man said that Monnier helped free his country during the war.
At the Marine Memorial, the group watched as a Marine was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During the ceremony, he said he had thought about holding the ceremony at different places but decided the site of the memorial was the place he wanted to receive his promotion.
Mike Bennett, co-chairman of the Shelby County Vets to D.C. committee, said the veterans selected for the wreath-laying ceremony were chosen with care. Both World War II veterans were selected for the honor. He looked at the applications for the Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, their honors and where they were in and out of theater to select the other two members of the ceremony.
This was the 11th trip sponsored by the Shelby County Vets to D.C. committee. Around 1,200 veterans, caregivers and volunteers have traveled to D.C. to see the memorials.
As the buses traveled the final miles back to Sidney Sunday afternoon, Bennett said he was glad the committee could take another group of veterans to D.C.
“We have welcomed them all into our family,” said Bennett. “It’s was a great experience.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.