DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. - An airman was sponsored to escort a World War II veteran on Honor Flight, Oct. 6-8, 2013.
Staff Sgt. David Wilcken, 612th Air and Space Operations Center air tasking order production technician, was the guardian for Robert Yeschek, a World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, who traveled to Washington with 76 other southern Arizona veterans and their guardians.
Honor Flight is an organization that pays for World War II veterans to travel to Washington to visit the World War II memorial. The inspiration behind this trip came from Earl Morse, a retired Air Force Captain, while he was working at the VA Hospital. Many of his patients did not know that the National World War II Memorial was built and later dedicated in 2004. The first Honor Flight took place in May 2005. Each veteran is assigned a guardian that assists and takes care of them throughout the duration of the trip.
The Desert Lightning Team Top 3, an organization composed of the top three enlisted ranks, wanted to get more involved in Honor Flight by sponsoring a guardian for a World War II veteran, but they wanted to make sure they had the right guardian for the veteran.
"Over two days we interviewed 26 members across D-M," said Master Sgt. Kristi Tellier, DLT Top 3 vice president. "Staff Sgt. Wilcken was chosen because he has a personal connection with World War II veterans since he had two grandfathers that served. We were impressed by his enthusiasm and genuine interest in honoring these heroes."
During the government shutdown, some of the memorials the Honor Flight would normally visit were closed, but the veterans were still allowed to visit the World War II memorial.
"As soon as we showed up and they saw us unloading the veterans, the park rangers actually moved the barricades out of the way," said Wilcken. "They welcomed every one of them in. They shook their hands and took pictures with them. We had free range of the memorial."
Some of the memorials the Honor Flight would normally visit were closed though. Aside from the World War II memorial, the veterans also visited the Women's Military History Museum, the Newseum and were scheduled to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
"When we were supposed to go to Arlington National Cemetery, it rained," Wilcken said. "It was monsoon type rain, so we took them to museum."
The whole plane was full of veterans, guardians and a news crew, all from southern Arizona. During the flight back, there was one final surprise for the veterans.
"On the flight back, we had a mail call," Wilcken said.
Guardians and team leaders collected letters from the veteran's families and schools from around the Tucson area.
"We made a package for them and surprised them with it," Wilcken said. "There was not a dry eye on the plane, and that was funny to me because I didn't see anybody cry at the memorial."
Wilcken was honored to be part of this trip.
"It was the coolest experience I've ever had," Wilcken said. "Those guys are probably the most humble generation out there. Just hearing their stories and getting to know them was really great. I really enjoyed it."