For two brothers, it was the trip of a lifetime, complete with receptions they never had when they returned home from war.
Arlo and Leo Richardson were just two of 150 veterans who went on the Story County Freedom Flight last Tuesday, Oct. 1. Arlo, 70, of Huxley, is a Vietnam Army veteran, while Leo, 83, of Slater, served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Both brothers said they were glad they got to experience the trip together, especially since they weren’t always close growing up due to their age difference.
Neither of the brothers had seen the monuments before, let alone visited Washington, D.C., so the trip marked two firsts for them. For Leo, he was most impressed by the ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery, during which a wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"It was neat to see how those boys are really trained," Leo said of the soldiers taking part in the ceremony. He also enjoyed seeing the Air Force monument.
"The view from the monument was a straight shot to the Pentagon," Leo said. If the monument had been built prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the plane that hit the Pentagon would have first hit the Air Force monument," he said.
Arlo said he most enjoyed viewing the Vietnam Memorial wall.
"All of them were beautiful," Arlo said of the monuments they saw.
The fact that the government was shut down during their trip, causing many of the monuments and parks to be closed, did not hamper the veterans’ trip. The only major impact it had was they could not climb to the top of the Lincoln Monument and they had to take a detour route to get a closer view of the Marine Corps Memorial.
He said the veterans "were treated like kings" while on the trip. They received a motorcycle escort down to the airport in Des Moines, not stopping at a single stop light, Arlo said. A send-off ceremony took place in Ames the Sunday prior to the trip, during which family members, friends and community members came out to show their support of the veterans. The brothers’ families were in attendance at the Ames ceremony. Some of Arlo’s family members also met him at the airport when they returned from their trip.
"We had such a good reception at Ames on Sunday, and at the airport it was just great and at D.C.," Arlo said of the receptions the group received.
"Every place we went, there was a group waiting for us," Leo added.
This was quite different from when the brothers returned home from the serving in the wars. When Arlo came back, he took a cab home to Cambridge - there was no gathered crowd or banners like there are for returning soldiers today.
In the end, the brothers had nothing bad to say about the trip that was filled with old war stories, shared memories and fellow veterans.
"The volunteers and Veterans Affairs people did a terrific job," Leo said. "They bent over backwards for us."