A life changing experience: UP Honor Flight XXI

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 9:28 PM EDT
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UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WLUC) - It was a life changing day for a group of U.P. veterans and for those accompanying them. It’s nearly impossible to fully share the experience of a U.P. Honor Flight with all of you at home. There aren’t enough words or images to truly capture the meaning of this day.

On May 3, 76 veterans and their guardians took off from Delta County Airport on Wednesday for U.P. Honor Flight Mission XXI. Together they visited over ten memorials in Washington D.C.

Tv6′s Elizabeth Peterson went on Honor Flight XXI and found from take-off to touch down every step of the way was crafted with honor, respect and the utmost care.

Ask anyone of these veterans what U.P. Honor Flight Mission XXI means to them and today, they’re almost unable to put it into words.

Navy Veteran Leonard Reed said, “It is amazing what has gone on, the people of the U.P., supporting this honor flight. It’s amazing. I’m flabbergasted.”

It will take days, weeks, months to process all that was seen and felt on this mission.

It’s a testament to the service and sacrifice they made and also to the respect and honor the Upper Peninsula has for its veterans.

The program is fully funded through donations and the hard work of volunteers - and that effort and generosity doesn’t go unnoticed today.

United States Coast Guard Veteran Klopotek said, “This is just fantastic. I never knew the work it took to fly from Escanaba into the nation’s capital with all the security that’s needed, all the arrangements, having everyone meet us. The sirens going through town, this is pretty special, being a Yooper and I’m sitting at the window waving. I love it. I just appreciate so much everything everyone has done.”

Klopotek, from Marquette, is here today because a volunteer agreed to join the flight and accompany him as what they call a free agent guardian.

They begin the day as strangers but form a bond through the experience that lasts a lifetime. And without that commitment from a free agent, Klopotek may never have gotten to join the flight.

Klopotek’s guardian, Terry Tripp, said, “It’s been incredible. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s definitely worth the time. I strongly encourage it.”

Navy Veteran Eileen Holmstrom from L’Anse said, “It’s awe inspiring the way that they paved the path. And we should respect what they did and we should honor it by being good citizens and being willing to do what we have to do.

Marie Saint Julian, is a free agent. Today, she’s a guardian to Holmstrom, and the only woman on U.P. Honor Flight XXI.

She recalled, “When I went in, in 1963, few women went in, people discouraged me.”

Holmstrom was inspired by a cousin who served, and she was steadfast in her decision. Today she says it was the best choice she made. A choice that framed the rest of her life. After her service she spent 36 years with the United States Postal Service.

Today, while a clear trailblazer, she shrugs off the reference and rather focuses on others, the sacrifices made by so many and the opportunity to show respect.

Holmstrom said, “I thought coming here is the way to remember the veterans here. I think it’s important that they’re not forgotten… that all these people come here every year. They look at the wall, they look at the names and they’re remembered.”

Holmstrom received special recognition at the Women’s Memorial, an emotional tribute to a modest, yet significant woman who stood true to herself.

All of these veterans approach the day with modesty. It’s apparent they sign up for the flight to pay respect to those who’ve served alongside them and to their fallen friends, family and those they never knew. But the beauty of this day is that while they’re able to do that, they’re also able to receive the respect, love, and honor they may have never gotten. It truly is a life changing experience.

There are so many ways you can get involved in this organization - and again - these missions - these life changing moments wouldn’t happen without people like you stepping up and volunteering.

Click here to learn more on all of the opportunities available.