Honor Flight one of best life experiences for area vets

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Honor Flight one of best life experiences for area vets


By Janell Bradley
Contributing Writer


It was an experience of a lifetime for two veterans of the Korean War to travel to Washington, D.C. There, they saw the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and viewed the Korean War Memorial and other sites.

Longtime friends Merv Ungerer and Lloyd Robinson were chosen to participate in an Honor Flight for veterans of the Korean War, which departed from Waterloo one day in late September.

Back in 1951, they were young men who hardly knew what lay ahead of them. But knowing they faced being drafted, each enlisted: Mervin with the U.S. Navy and Lloyd with the U.S. Army.

As teenagers, they attended Hawkeye High School after going to township country school in the lower grades. Both graduated in 1947. In 1951, Lloyd was working as a farmhand for Lee Pleggenkuhle and Merv, for Lester Niewoehner.

Lloyd's father, Walt Robinson, managed the Hawkeye Co-op, and it was there that his draft notice arrived in the mail and was opened by an employee about the same time Lloyd had gone to Waterloo to enlist.

Likewise, knowing a draft notice was probably on its way, Ungerer decided he'd sign up with the U.S. Navy, along with Louis Fritz and Bob Miller from the Hawkeye-Alpha area. At boot camp in San Diego, they were joined by Russell and Lowell Pagel of Sumner.

Robinson, serving with the Army, initially landed at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, site of an earlier amphibious invasion and important battle of the Korean War that resulted in a decisive victory and strategic reversal in favor of the United Nations.

The operation, which involved some 75,000 troops and 261 naval vessels, led to the recapture of the South Korea’s capital, Seoul, two weeks later.

Ungerer, on the U.S. Henderson Destroyer 745, tells of how artillery could be fired at a distance of 20 miles. "For that distance, it was pretty accurate," he said.

When the Hawkeye men arrived in Korea, war had been waging between the North and South factions for several months already.  The two divisions of the country compromised on some of their differences in a treaty signed in July 1953.

The U.S. provided 88 percent of the 341,000 international soldiers that aided South Korean forces, with 20 other countries of the United Nations offering assistance.

 Robinson, after earning enough points to rotate home as a result of the action he saw, returned to Hawkeye in June 1953. Navy man Ungerer returned Nov. 17, 1954.

Both continued to live in the Hawkeye community where, with their respective wives, they raised their families. Lloyd and Donna Robinson are the parents of Gary, Steven and Kurt. Merv and Kathryn Ungerer are the parents of David and Douglas.

Honor Flight application

Two years ago, some of the local veterans of the Korean War were contacted by Jerry Homewood and asked to complete applications for an Honor Flight that was being planned. Merv recalled that the eligibility service dates were Jan. 25, 1950, to Jan. 31, 1955.

Once Ungerer and Robinson were contacted that they had been chosen for the trip, they had to find traveling companions, as spouses are not allowed to accompany the men.

Lloyd's son, Steve, went with his dad to Washington D.C., as did Merv's son Doug, who first had to fly to Iowa from Zephyrhills, Fla., where he resides with his wife, Cotta.

Arriving at the Waterloo airport, the group's departure was around 7 a.m. They landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport a few hours later. Boarding buses, they toured Washington, D.C., and drove past the Washington Monument, the Capitol building, the White House, and Martin Luther King Memorial. The men stopped and got a closer look at the Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean and Iwo Jima memorials, and were even offered wheelchair assistance so they didn't have to walk as far.

The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery probably left one of the greatest impressions on both Ungerer and Robinson. The 1,000-acre cemetery, with its uniform alignment of headstones serving as markers, is an impressive sight. The two men appreciated the solemnness of the changing of the guard, as soldiers made 21 steps in one direction and then 21 steps in another.

The veterans were driven past the Air Force Memorial, and a group photograph was taken of each group next to its bus.

With the average age of the veterans being generally 80 years or more, the men said it was quite a feat for the organizers to arrange transportation and even wheelchairs for those able to walk but appreciative of having a seat to rest, as there was a lot of walking.

"I've never been treated so well by a bunch of strangers," said Robinson.

"It was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life," added Ungerer.

During the day's activities, the two war veterans were surprised with a visit from their nephew Bruce Boess, who is employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in D.C. Bruce, son of Paul and Dorothy Boess, caught up with Robinson and Ungerer and his cousins, Steve and Doug while they were on the Washington Mall. Dorothy is Merv's sister, and Paul is Donna Robinson's brother.

Although it was a long day of sightseeing, Ungerer and Robinson said the Honor Flight did indeed, honor them as war veterans, and they feel privileged to have participated.


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