McGregor vet enjoys once-in-a-lifetime Honor Flight trip

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Bob Eggen, a Korean War veteran from McGregor, enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C., April 18, through the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. Here, he visits Arlington National Cemetery. (Submitted photos)

Eggen said visiting the Korean War Memorial, which features life-size statues of soldiers, was a memorable experience. “I remember those crazy ponchos we had to wear,” he remarked.

Eggen was one of 87 Eastern Iowa veterans—58 Korean War veterans and 26 Vietnam veterans—who made the one-day trip.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

McGregor veteran Bob Eggen enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C., April 18, through the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that sends veterans to the nation’s capital to visit a variety of war memorials and historic sites.

A Korean War veteran, Eggen was one of 87 Eastern Iowa veterans—58 Korean War veterans and 26 Vietnam veterans—who made the one-day trip.

Eggen said he learned about the Honor Flight through a newspaper advertisement and filled out an application in order to be considered. Having already visited D.C. during his time in the service, Eggen said he was eager to return. The trip also happened the day before Eggen’s birthday, making a good present to himself.

“I think the timing was as perfect as the weather,” he remarked of the day, which was sunny and 83 degrees.

The day started early, with Eggen and his daughter, Susan Brown, who served as his escort, arriving at the airport in Cedar Rapids around 5:15 a.m. The flight departed at 6:30 a.m. and touched down in D.C. around 9:30 a.m. From there, the whole group (veterans, escorts and volunteers) hopped on three charter buses for their whirlwind tour around the city. Stops included the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Marine Corps, Air Force and Women’s Memorials; the Lincoln Memorial; and Arlington National Cemetery.

Eggen, who served from Dec. 1951 to Jan. 1953 in Germany, said visiting the Korean War Memorial, which features life-size statues of soldiers, was a memorable experience.

“With all those statues, it was pretty impressive,” he noted. “I remember those crazy ponchos we had to wear. They were part of the uniform. They shed water pretty good, but they certainly were nothing to look at.”

Eggen said he wouldn’t trade his service experience for anything.

“I was able to tour Europe,” he said. “I was stationed near Switzerland, a place I was always interested in.”

Eggen said he was disappointed to learn, however, that the memorial did not feature the names of service members who were killed in action, as he had hoped to locate the name of his friend, Mickey Connell, from Marquette.

“We were drafted the same day, and when we got to Fort Leonard Wood in Arkansas, we were split up,” Eggen explained. “I went to Germany and he went to Korea.”

Another highlight of the trip, Eggen said, was visiting Arlington, where the group witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. Eggen said over 20 service members are buried in the cemetery each day, one of which occurred while they were visiting.

“It was interesting to see the caisson go through with the team of horses,” he said.

Eggen said the whole trip was a moving experience, as crowds of people greeted the veterans everywhere they stopped. The group was even greeted by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum.

“When we landed, there was a whole line of school kids cheering and clapping,” he said. “I had more people shake my hand and thank me for my service than in the 63 years since I’ve been home from the service.”

When the group arrived back at the airport in Cedar Rapids that night, around 10 p.m., Eggen said the whole airport was filled with people waiting to greet them, including his daughter’s family.

Eggen said he would recommend the Honor Flight experience to other service members.

“Any veteran is eligible,” he said. “You don’t have to be a war hero; as long as you served.”

For more information about the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, visit eihonorflight.org. Additional flights planned for 2016 include May 18, Sept. 20 and Oct. 18.

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