As young men, Pella natives Doyle Vande Lune, Walter Roorda, Gene Strenjes, Gary Gezel, and Henry Monster, fought for their country half-way around the world to achieve victory. Almost 64 years since the conclusion of the global conflict, all five men were honored once again for their participation with an all-expense paid Honor Flight to Washington D.C.

The Honor Flight Network was founded by retired Air Force Captain and physician assistant, Earl Morse. The first trip took place in May of 2005, when twelve WWII veterans were taken from Ohio to Washington D.C. Since then, the waiting list has increased tremendously, while the Honor Flight Network made a transition to commercial airline carriers for accommodating more veterans.

The Central Iowa Honor Flight, which was sponsored by Hy-Vee, took place on Tuesday, Aug. 11, with 350 veterans on board. With a banquet from the night before at Hy-Vee Hall, veterans were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving citizens to give them a ceremonious send-off.

“Young, old, people of every age were there to meet us at the plane. I couldn’t believe the number of them all; waving their little American flags. I can’t express the appreciation I have for the community to raise money for our trip; it is so great to encounter this kind of recognition for vets after so many years,” said Strenjes, who was a pilot for a B-24 four engine bomber and completed 34 missions in Europe.

After arriving in Washington D.C. later that day, veterans were then escorted in buses to visit the National World War II Memorial. Many posed for photos in front of their home state, where the names are engraved in pillars that encircle the memorial.

“The memorial was just beautiful; it was a prideful reminder of all the men and women that lost their lives. I saw it; and I thought of my time spent with the 168th combat team, the trip across the Atlantic on the Duchess of Athol, servicing Ike’s packard in Algiers. Americans do real well in remembering their veterans,” said Gezel; Gezel moved around continuously during the war; he served in Northern Africa, and multiple countries in Europe in such significant moments as the last three weeks of the Battle of the Bulge or the occupation of Nuremberg, Germany.

“Oh my goodness, it was just terrific. I like to say that it was a one in a lifetime deal. The memorial was beautiful, Washington D.C. was a tremendous place,” said Monster, a member in the 34th Infantry that was stationed in Italy. Monster also commented that as the war was ending in 1945, he had not received enough points to be discharged and was transferred to the 88th Division for a year before being discharged from the 34th Infantry.

Veterans on the Honor Flight were also able to see the changing of the guard at Arlington cemetery, the Iwo Jima memorial, and the Korean and Vietnam Memorials. Finishing their day tour, veterans soon were back on the plane to return home to their families. While they have pictures to capture their experiences, the pride in their service and and fallen countrymen is indescribable.

“We lost a lot a good guys; in the Bulge, Stolberg, Column. A lot of good guys. I am very appreciative to Hy-Vee and the Honor Flight Network for providing me with the ability to go to the memorial and let me pay my respects. I will always be grateful,” said Roorda, a member of the Third Armored Division.

Donations to the Central Iowa Honor Flight may be sent to: Central Iowa Honor Flight P.O. Box 125 Council Bluffs, Iowa 51502

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