Today, Wednesday, another group of war veterans are enjoying a trip to Washington, D.C., to view memorials erected in their honor. The trip is sponsored by Franklin County Honor Flight, Inc.
There are 29 veterans, along with guardians and Honor Flight officials, for a total of 56 people in the group. They left on a 6 a.m. flight on a Southwest plane from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. They are due back Wednesday night about 8 p.m. They will be greeted on their return by Honor Flight board members. Each veteran will receive a World War II Memorial photograph, taken earlier in the day if possible, and a certificate. Usually, they are given out by a public official, or special guest of Honor Flight. This time Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer has been invited to do the honors.
For most of the veterans, the Honor Flight trip is the only way they would ever see the war memorials. One of the veterans who made an earlier trip said it was the most memorable day of his life.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, they are supposed to arrive at the World War II memorial. The group photo will be taken there if possible. It will be processed immediately and sent electronically to Honor Flight officials. From that impressive memorial, which is relatively new, and was spearheaded by former Sen. Bob Dole, the veterans will visit the Korean, Iwo Jima and other memorials before visiting Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where they will view the changing of the guard.
After dinner they will depart to the airport for the return trip.
In every Honor Flight group there are veterans who have stories about their experiences, many of them unique. In the beginning, the trip was for World War II veterans. Since that number has been declining due to age, Korean War veterans now make up the largest number who make the trip. On the trip this week, about one-third consisted of WWII veterans and rest were vets of the Korean War.
Honor Flight began in this county in 2007 under the leadership of Jim Tayon, Judge Larry Davis and Dave Hall, all of the Union area. That trio has performed an outstanding ser-
vice for veterans. All three still are leading the charge. What a dedicated trio!
Among the group today is a 92-year-old St. Louisian, Melvin Nierdieck, WWII veteran, who has ties to Washington. At one time, the Nierdieck family had a meat market at the southeast corner of Second and Lafayette streets, where Ed Simons and his wife now operate a meat market. Before that it was Asel’s Meat Market. The Franklin County Honor Flight has expanded its operations to Jefferson, Warren, Crawford and Gasconade counties, and even some vets from St. Louis city and county have made flights with the Franklin County group.
Another interesting veteran who is with Wednesday’s group is a Vietnam War vet, John “Jack” Portras, who lives in Barnhart. He is an accomplished bugler in sounding taps. He will sound taps at each of the memorials in Washington, D.C. Portras has been playing taps at military funerals at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery for a long time. In July, he blew taps at 78 funerals and 90 in August, according to Tayon.
Tayon is with Heritage Realty in Washington. He is the president of Honor Flight. He praised the work of volunteer Wanda Weirich of Washington. By the way, Wanda is the daughter of Bernie Bieker, 92, Washington, a WWII veteran who was with Merrill’s Marauders. Bernie has made an Honor Flight trip and recently attended a reunion of the Marauders in Minneapolis.
As we mentioned, the veterans who make these trips are very grateful to Honor Flight, which is supported by donations. Cost of each flight is about $18,000. In the beginning, four or five flights were made each year. This year a flight was made in April in addition to the one this week. The next flight probably will be in April 2014, according to Tayon. Anybody who is interested in making a donation may contact Tayon at cell 314-302-3858, or fax at 636-239-7552. His email address is email@example.com. Donations also may be mailed to Honor Flight, P.O. Box 60, Union, MO 63084. Donations can be mailed to Honor Flight’s new website, wwwfchonorflight.org, which has information about making a donation.
Tayon said the generosity of people in this area is amazing.