NEW MADISON — About 85 area veterans returned home to a hero’s welcome Saturday night at Dayton International Airport Saturday night after taking part in Honor Flight Dayton, a program that sends veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to Washington, D.C., for a day to visit their memorials.
Honor Flight Dayton takes six trips a year to Washington — three in the spring and three in the fall — at no charge to the veterans participating, and one local veteran shared his story of his unforgettable day.
Delbert Braund, of New Madison, is a Korean War veteran who took his Honor Flight trip this past May.
“It was a tremendous trip,” Braund said in an interview with the Daily Advocate. “One you’ll never forget.”
Braund was in the Air Force for 22 years, from July 1948 until his discharge May 31, 1970. He joined straight out of high school and was sent to Korea in January 1951 “as a 20-year-old snot-nosed kid,” where he served until April of 1952.
He flew 52 missions in that 15-month period with the B-26 731st Bomb Squadron with the third bomb wing.
For the next 18 years or so, he served with Strategic Air Command, then served in Southeast Asia for two tours — from November 1966 to December 1967 and again when the C-130 outfit he was assigned to in the United States was deployed in February 1968 until September 1968 on the Pueblo Crisis. He also was stationed in Panama once.
After his service, Braund attended Sinclair College and Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and then went to work for Edmond Storch at his funeral home and eventually bought the funeral home from him in 1978 and ran it for 30 years.
Before his service, Braund. who was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania, and raised in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, had never been away from home before, and since retiring, he hasn’t had much interest in traveling. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity when he learned about Honor Flight.
“I knew a couple of World War II veterans who had gone on the trip, then after I had my open heart surgery, I desired to go,” Braund said. “I wasn’t going to be able to drive myself or anything.”
Braund took the trip May 23 of this year.
“They are very organized,” he said. “Everything runs on a timetable. Everybody is completely accounted for.”
Veterans keep the same seat on the flight there and back, and they keep the same seat on the buses.
“Every vet has a guardian,” Braund said. “In some cases there will be two vets to one guardian, but any veteran who is handicapped or has medical needs, they’ll be one-on-one with the guardian.”
Braund’s son, Del Jr., went as his guardian, and those vets who do not have someone to travel with them are assigned a guardian. Guardians do not travel for free, but the $335 fee covers round-trip airfare as well as all meals, transportation in Washington and the memorial visits.
Every bus has a nurse and a paramedic on it. They also travel on the plane. Every veteran’s medical needs are attended to during the trip.
Braund said he has been to Washington, D.C., before, but he had not been able to see his memorial. He was there for a reunion with his bomb squadron when it was dedicated, but “there were so many people, you couldn’t get close to see it.”
“What we saw in one day, I’m sure if you went by yourself, it’d take you three, three and a half days,” he said. “Because with us, we got to park right up by the monuments, within a short walking distance. And the traffic, we had a motorcycle right through Washington, everywhere we went. That fella could sure handle a motorcycle.
“We saw all seven monuments, saw the changing of the guard and also the changing of the floral wreath … at the Tomb of the Unknown.”
Braund said the reception the veterans received everywhere they went was overwhelming. He said a group of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists were nearby having their reunion when the veterans were having lunch, and they came over to help serve and talk to the vets during lunch and clean up afterward.
At the Korean War memorial, they ran into a large group of young Korean tourists. “They stood and clapped us as we went through,” he said. “Of course, they had to be from South Korea.”
The veterans are treated as heroes from beginning to end, from valet parking at the airport and a send-off with a band and cheering fans, to their return to hundreds of friends, family and volunteers, music and a parade through the airport to welcome them back.
“When you taxi in at Dulles airport, there’s a firetruck on each side where you taxi in to the gate, and they give you the water salute, pumping water across the plane criss-crossing it across the top,” Braund said. “And you’re greeted by a greeting group at Dulles. When you leave, we had a group that was square-dancing and singing songs.
“When we got back, both sides of the aisleway from the gate where we got off, past the ticket counter, down past the exits down to the far end were lined on both sides with military personnel, a lot of civilians. They had a band. They had the colors from Wright Patt. The colonel from Wright Patt was there. It was just a tremendous welcome back.”
It was very different from Braund’s return from the war.
“There was no comparison,” Braund said. “When I came back from Korea, we were advised not to wear our uniform when travelling because that was in the era when they were demonstrating against it. Some people would spit at you.”
Braund said one of the highlights of the trip was on the way home, when the vets were asked about the things they most looked forward in daily life while they were serving, and the top anticipated event was mail call. Each veteran was then given a manila envelope filled with cards and letters from friends, family and schoolchildren.
Spaces are still available for the remaining two Honor Flight trips this year in October and November. For information, visit www.honorflightdayton.org or call 937-322-4448.
Reach the writer at 937-569-4354 or on Twitter @RachelLloydGDA.