Spring Valley icon makes personal honor flight to war memorial
Friday, May 23, 2014 8:21 AM
Memorial Day is a holiday to remember those who have served our country throughout its history. So it seems only natural we celebrate a local legend's long awaited journey to the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Dale Wondrasch finally completed his long awaited journey to the Korean War Veterans Memorial during his personal honor flight in late April. SUBMITTED PHOTO
"It originated after my family trip to Gettysburg in the summer of 2013 for the 150th anniversary of the battle and then we went to Washington, D.C. I talked to my wife and said, 'You know we should take Dale (Wondrasch) to D.C.' So we came back and I approached Dale and asked if he would like to go see his memorial," said Nathan Pike, a veteran himself and the commander of the Spring Valley VFW and American Legion.
Wondrasch, a Spring Valley native and Korean War veteran who spent time in Korea fighting, had once looked into participating in an Honor Flight to see the Korean War memorial, but with flights no longer offered in Rochester, he was unable to make the trip. With Pike's offer, his hope was renewed.
Unlike a typical Honor Flight, which lasts only one long day, Pike and Wondrasch's journey would encompass three days of touring our nation's capital and the surrounding areas.
But the trip wasn't without its share of complications.
"It was kind of a delay in route business. See, we were supposed to go way back in October, but then they had that government shutdown and it kind of goofed up everything," Wondrasch explained.
With the shutdown looming on, Pike worked with Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and his staff to stay up-to-date so the pair could decide if they should make the trip.
"Unfortunately, we had to pull the plug three days before because the shutdown was really having an effect on what we wanted to see and do," Pike said.
But the pair was not deterred, and as this year's harsh winter started to fade they once again began to make plans for Wondrasch's personal honor flight.
The two men were finally able to take their long awaited journey on Friday, April 25.
After touching down they ventured to Arlington National Cemetery where they did not let the soggy weather dampen their spirits.
"We figured if they (the fallen soldiers) could get wet, we could, too," Wondrasch declared.
After catching some shut-eye in Alexandria, Va., the duo took a six-hour tour of Washington, D.C., to look at the various monuments scattered among the city.
The tour included an hour cruise on the Potomac River, giving them a different vantage point of the monuments.
"Sunday we focused on being down at the National Mall and being at the war memorials and monuments. Because Dale served in Korea as a Korean War Veteran we concentrated on that and World War II, then Vietnam," Pike noted.
They were also able to see the famed Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts the iconic image of the second flag-raising on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II.
From there they traveled back to Arlington.
"When we went back they had school kids there to lay a wreath on the tomb (The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). A sergeant came out and everyone had to be quiet as he told them what to do. That's as quiet as we've seen kids for a long time! I thought that was fascinating," Wondrasch remembered.
The two were welcomed back into Minnesota on Monday, April 28, met with cooler temperatures and a homecoming party at "Dale's favorite watering hole," Johnny Ringo's.
Looking back at their journey, Wondrasch recalled one of his favorite parts of the journey, watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"That was something," he said. "Being in service you understand that more than those who haven't been in service."
For Pike, getting Wondrasch to his memorial was the highlight of the trip.
"That was the end goal to get to that memorial," he said. "Everything else was just an added bonus."
During their travels the men were able to take advantage of the hotel shuttles and the local metro train to make their adventures easier and more convenient.
Pike noted that without the generosity of VFW post 4114 of Spring Valley, which helped cover the cost of the plane tickets, and an anonymous donation of a lightweight wheelchair, the trip would have been much more difficult.
The wheelchair was donated to the Fillmore County Veterans' Office upon the men's return.
"We felt it was important. Dale has been an icon in the community for the past half century and he's been very involved with both the American Legion and the VFW since his time out of service," Pike concluded. "I just thought it was something that if he was able to do it, which he was, he should be able to go see his memorial."