Veterans Honor Flight was ‘life changing’
By Don Rush
Earlier in the month an Addison Township woman had a whirlwind of a day, flying from Escanaba to Washington, DC and then back to Escanaba — a little over 1,300 miles, landing in Washington at 6:30 a.m. and returning back to Escanaba at 10 p.m. And, she did it for one reason: her father.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” Amanda Poteete, 42 said. She had her family live on Lake George Road. “It was life-changing. It was just beautiful.”
Poteete traveled with her father George Olson, 78, to Washington, DC on an honor flight for veterans of the United States Armed Services. Olson, and his wife of 57 years, Sandy have lived in the U.P. town of Norway since 1977. He served from 1967-1969 as an Army Sergeant, was wounded while patrolling on a PBR boat on the Mekong River Delta and is a Purple Heart Recipient. (A Patrol Boat, Riverine, or PBR, is the United States Navy designation for a small rigid-hulled patrol boat used in the Vietnam War.) During the one-day trip veterans were able to visit the memorials made in their honor — memorials commemorating soldiers from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.
“There were about 200 of us who flew down there,” Poteete said. “Before we even left (Escanaba) there was a parade for everybody, bands were playing at 4 o’clock in the morning, it was just amazing. And when we got back there were hundreds of people waiting to welcome the veterans home. It was beautiful. We did visit the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and The Vietnam Wall.
“It was life-changing because I got to see my father welcomed home in a positive and loving way. I got to see his reaction to The Wall. I didn’t even think he was going to see it, I thought he might look at it from afar. He ended up going to see it and to watch his reaction is something I will never forget. There was sadness of course, I just watched him go through memories and the times where The Wall is the highest is the time he was there. It took him quite a while to go through it, afterward he sat me down and talked to me about a few of those names on The Wall – how they fought alongside of him and it was something I won’t forget.
“Words can’t even express how important this is to me. My father has always been and will always be my hero. There has not been a single minute of my life that he has not supported me fully in everything I do and always with a side of love, a laugh, guidance and the willingness to be there to help. Throughout my life, my father has shared moments from his time in Vietnam that will forever be in my mind — the fears, the strength, the pain, the camaraderie, the not knowing if he would ever see his wife again or even return home. These moments have always humbled me as he has always made sure I always felt safe and loved.”
On the flight back from the nation’s capital, veterans were encouraged to read letters they had received prior to leaving Escanaba that morning. “I had reached out to my friends and family and locals and my father had hundreds of letters. Someone had even made him a canvas painting of the PBR boat he was on. He read two letters on the plane and then said, ‘I’m gonna have to do this in private,’ because he was getting emotional,” she said, adding that some elementary students from his hometown had written him letters of gratitude. “When he got back, he actually went and visited those classrooms to share a little bit about Vietnam. He said it was an absolutely amazing experience.”
“Something that really stuck with me that my father said, which made me sad, but kinda happy too – he said, ‘It only took me 54 years to get a welcome home like this.’ When we got back to Escanaba, there were hundreds of people there to welcome them ‘home.’ He finally got to kiss my mom after getting off the plane. It was a moment to see.”
According to the website HonorFlight.org, “Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit organization comprised of independent hubs working together to achieve the Honor Flight mission. In furtherance of this common goal, we have the enormous privilege of showing our nation’s veterans the appreciation and honor they deserve. Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share this momentous occasion with other comrades, remember the fallen, and share their stories and experiences with other veterans. Honored veterans always travel free of charge, thanks to generous donations to our organization. Honor Flight Network currently honors those who served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and veterans of any service era who are critically ill.”
Poteete said she hopes any veteran from WWII to Vietnam will look into taking an Honor Flight.
“It’s a beautiful experience, my mother shared information with me about it over six years ago. I nominated my father almost four years ago and we were humbly chosen for this Honor Flight in May 2023. A few of my Dad’s fellow comrades had gone and they shared it was a once in a lifetime experience. There are Honor Flights all across that USA, I encourage families to research these amazing flights to offer support, possibly apply for a loved veteran or donate.”
Tell me out these trips and how others can take advantage of them:
You can learn more about Honor Flights here: HonorFlight.org