A flight of memories


photos courtesy of Bill McLean • The group of 70 veterans took over a plane to get to Washington, D.C. During the flight, letters were handed out that had been written by loved ones.

photos courtesy of Bill McLean • Korean War veteran Scott Mclean, seated, and his son, Bill, participated in the most recent Honor Flight on April 7, which took a group of World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials for the wars in which they fought.

courtesy of Joe Atkins • Upon arrival back in the Twin Cities, Scott McLean was met by friends and family to cheer on the 86-year-old veteran.

photos courtesy of Bill McLean

photos courtesy of Bill McLean

Local veteran takes part in honor flight

 

In the early morning hours of April 7, a group boarded a plane at the Hubert Humphrey Charter Terminal at the Minneapolis, St. Paul International Airport. This wasn’t an ordinary flight — it was to be the 19th Honor Flight out of the Twin Cities.

On it were veterans of World War II and the Korean War, including Inver Grove Heights resident Scott McLean.

The one-day trip took the group of veterans, their guardians and volunteers out to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments dedicated to the wars they fought.

 

A dedication to service

McLean, who is 86, joined the Navy in 1951 before he’d even graduated from St. Paul Central High School. After completing boot camp, McLean was assigned to the USS Ault, a WWII-type destroyer.

“[It was a] ship that had a lot of history to it from WWII. It was in Tokyo Bay when they signed the surrender,” McLean said.

The ship was put back into commission and McLean and his fellow sailors set course for Cuba, and from there on to the Mediterranean. They came back to the United States and picked up some midshipmen, before going to the northern side of Europe. 

The Ault was eventually sent to Korea to be part of the task force, where McLean said they did a lot of work.

“We were dodging mines and chasing submarines,” he said, adding they were operating out of Taiwan Straight.

After being there for six weeks, the Ault was chasing a Russian submarine when it, as McLean put it, got “t-boned” at sea.

The Ault returned to the states and McLean transferred ships to another destroyer. Even though the armistice had been signed by that point and the Korean War had come to a halt, McLean’s ship patrolled in the Far East to keep “the so-called enemies” out.

Working his way up the ranks to become a petty officer by his second tour, McLean was eventually reassigned to Rhode Island where he trained people on how to operate ships — he was an engineer in the engine room.

His service eventually brought him to the Twin Cities, where he did recruitment as well as training, reaching the rank of chief petty officer.

 

Life out of the navy

McLean stayed close to the cities during the end of his time in service because he and his wife had seven children. McLean was fully discharged from the Navy in 1977.

His civilian life included working at the Pine Bend Refinery for 10 years.  

He would eventually transition to working in the hotel business after a naval friend talked him into it. 

In 1960, McLean joined the Inver Grove Township Fire Department, where he would become the chief training officer. McLean became fire chief in 1974 and stayed on with the department until around 1982. 

 

An honor flight

Jerry Kyser, president of the Honor Flight Twin Cities, put together the first flight in April of 2008 after being contacted to start the Twin Cities chapter. Kyser, a Vietnam veteran, had put together aviation flyovers, but didn’t know anything about honor flights. 

Kyser’s parents served in World War II.

“I thought this was a fabulous way for me to honor both of my parents,” Kyser said — his mother was a Red Cross worker and his father was an Army colonel. 

Kyser said it takes a lot of pre-planning to put together an honor flight. The April 7 flight marked the 19th flight, bringing the program’s total participants to around 1,558 World War II veterans and 168 Korea veterans. The most recent flight consisted of 34 WWII veterans and 36 Korea vets. 

Three months ahead of time, Kyser calls those on the waiting list to find out, as he put it, “who’s still kicking.” Many of the people have been on the list for at least a year. World War II veterans will take precedence over Korean War vets because of health and time in service. 

Those going on the flight are excited, but Kyser described it as a pilgrimage, not a trip.

“Whatever they didn’t do, should have done, thought about, what shame they had when they were in the service, they leave that alone because when they get to Washington, D.C., all those things are going to be left there at the memorial,” Kyser said. “They can go home knowing they’ve done everything they could do to honor all the people they know that died and didn’t make it.” 

Once in D.C. the group travels to a variety of sites, including the Marine Corps War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and the Women’s Memorial, where the group eats lunch.

The group gets out of the buses at the National World War II Memorial for pictures, with a bugler playing taps there and at the Korean War Veterans Memorial

“Everything stops. Anyone who can hear that bugle will stand at attention and salute. It’s dead quiet ... it’s beautiful,” Kyser said. 

One of the final stops is going to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard.

 

Trip of a lifetime

McLean found out about honor flights when his daughter told him two years ago that she’d put his name on the waiting list. Last year, he got a letter telling him that he was selected to be part of the April 7 flight. 

McLean’s oldest son, Bill, who joined his father on the trip, said he was excited for his dad to go on the trip because he has always been proud of his service. 

McLean said the number of people in the terminal, early in the morning, was surprising. When the flight got to D.C., there were people welcoming them, something McLean described as crazy and great. 

Part way through the flight, Kyser does mail call, where he hands out sacks of letters written by family, friends and total strangers to the veterans.

“This is the time I can make every single one of them cry,” Kyser said. The mail call was a highlight, McLean said.

As this was Bill’s first time to D.C., his dad acted as a major tour guide. Bill said he enjoyed hearing the veterans share their stories that day.

“It’s really an honor to meet these veterans and listen to their experiences during their service years,” Bill said.

McLean said when they got to the Korean memorial, there was a surprise waiting for him. His grandson, who is stationed at the air force base in Fairfax, Virginia, was waiting there. 

“Looking back on it, I kind of dreaded the thought of getting up at three in the morning and not getting back home until midnight, but it didn’t bother me one bit,” McLean said. 

When the group arrived home, there was a crowd gathered to welcome them back home. McLean said he thinks every relative he has in the area was waiting there.

Bill said his dad was “just flabbergasted” when the group arrived home. As he wheeled his dad down the concourse, Bill said there were hundreds of friends and family waving banners to welcome him home and thank him for his 26 years of service.

“He never expected all these people there and it was overwhelming for him,” Bill said. “I know he enjoyed it very much.”

To learn more about honor flights, visit www.honorflighttwincities.org.


 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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