‘Surprise of my life’: WWII veterans get heroes’ welcome for DC trip


Jack Wilke, a WW2 Marine Corps veteran, visits the World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C., Tuesday, November 1, 2022. Ken and Jack traveled to Washington as part of the The Honor Flight Network, which pays tribute to veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam with a trip to the nationÕs capital to visit and reflect at the memorials.
Jack Wilke, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, visits the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, November 1, 2022. Ken and Jack traveled to Washington as part of the Honor Flight Network, which pays tribute to veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam with a trip to the nation’s capital to visit and reflect at the memorials. Graeme Jennings/Graeme Jennings

‘Surprise of my life’: WWII veterans get heroes’ welcome for DC trip

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As the Greatest Generation ages, a charity group dedicated to honoring World War II veterans is racing against time to give heroes a dignified welcome to Washington, D.C.

The Honor Flight organization launched in 2005 to fly veterans from around the country to the nation’s capital to see the World War II Memorial that opened the year prior. With just 1% of veterans who served in WWII living, the pace at which they arrive in the district is slowing as the veterans carry with them the memories of loved ones who died before them.

“I just wish they would’ve been able to go,” World War II veteran Ken Schibler, 95, said of his six siblings who died before having the chance to visit the memorial in the nation’s capital dedicated to their military service.

Schibler honored the 75th anniversary of his final day in the Navy on Nov. 1 by visiting the memorial as he and fellow veterans traveled with loved ones on an Honor Flight from Missouri.

The Honor Flight is a nationwide organization that is comprised of independent hubs in different cities that work to bring veterans of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials dedicated to their service at no charge to them.

“I just wish they would have been able to get here because they all enjoyed being in service, and we all put our time in,” he said, “I wish my brothers and sisters were here where they could see it, but they’re all deceased now.”


Schibler was one of 10 children, seven of whom served in the military during the Second World War, and they all returned home from it. Two sisters were Marines who stayed stateside, while the rest of the siblings featured two soldiers, two sailors, and a Coast Guardsmen.

He and Jack Wilke, 86, were the only two WWII veterans among the 58 veterans who were on the Honor Flight from Missouri a week before Veterans Day. The two are among roughly 167,000 WWII vets who are still alive of the approximately 16 million who served in the war, which represents about 1% of that population, according to the WWII Museum.

Schibler brought little write-ups about his siblings’ time in the war, Ken Schibler Jr., his son, told the Washington Examiner.

“Every one of his siblings would have loved to have been here, and he’s the only one to — he’s actually kind of come for all of them,” the younger Schibler said of his dad, aunts, and uncles.

The two WWII vets from Missouri were a part of the 100th Honor Flight from the Show-Me State.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to do it. It’s more than I ever thought it’d be. It’s just supreme. It can’t get any better,” Wilke, who was surprised by multiple family members who made the trip from Chicago, Baltimore, Virginia, and St. Louis to be with him as he went to the monuments, said. “It was the surprise of my life.”

Speaking of the Honor Flights organization, he added, “I’ve never realized people could be [so] kind, thoughtful, caring — they’re just super people,” while the elder Schibler added that they’re “really important because a lot of veterans don’t know too much about it and it lets them see what’s going, and let them know that they’re appreciated.”

Jeff Miller and Earl Morse founded the Honor Flights to bring WWII vets to the district but later expanded and recently reached the milestone of bringing 250,000 veterans to Washington.

“Part of that celebration was looking to the future and saying, ‘Just because we’ve hit this milestone or served this many veterans doesn’t mean we’re anywhere near the end of what we do.; You know, the Desert Storm Desert Shield Memorial is underway. The National War on Terror memorial’s underway, which is Afghanistan and Iraq,” Meredith Rosenbeck, the Honor Flight CEO, said. “We want to serve those veterans as well.”

There are currently about 45,000 veterans from WWII, Korea, or Vietnam already signed up and on the waiting list, and that’s before they start opening up their flights to a younger generation of service members.

On the opposite end of this being Missouri’s 100th Honor Flight, this Veterans Day season marks the first such flight from Hawaii, and next April, the first flight from Puerto Rico will arrive. The group from Hawaii consists of roughly 30 veterans.


Gary Todd, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam, was on that trip from Hawaii, and he got to see the Vietnam War memorial for the second time in his life. This time, he said, he hoped to find the names of service members he knew who died during the war whose names he couldn’t find on the wall during his first visit.

He first found out about the Honor Flight organization during a local news segment, and he submitted his application the next morning.

“I’ve been to Washington briefly a couple of times and … once on Air Force One, but this whole trip, I think, is going to be even more exciting than any of that,” Todd said. “I’m really looking forward to this. So far … every indication is these people know how to do it, and they’re going about it methodically.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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