LEXINGTON — Between the flags flowing in the wind, children’s voices carrying patriotic song or the standing ovation from the crowd, it is hard to pick out a singular moment which stood above the rest during the sendoff for the sixth Dawson County Area Hero Flight.
The Heartland Military Museum was packed to standing room on Wednesday, Sept. 25 as the community gathered to send off the 25 veterans who would be bound for Washington D.C. to view memorials dedicated in their honor.
Flag Captain of the Patriot Guard Billy Rayburn spoke to the group and the veterans. The Patriot Guard has been present at all six of the Hero Flights, and escort the veterans all the way to Omaha.
The guard was formed to combat the protest of veterans funerals and to pay their respects to those who have sacrificed for this country, Rayburn said.
As the generations who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars begin to reach their golden years, Rayburn said it is important to thank these men for their service.
She said the Vietnam War was not popular and by extension, the men who fought in Southeast Asia were treated poorly upon their return.
The Korean veterans she said, while not mistreated, were barely treated at all. The war for the 38th parallel has been lost between the triumph of the Second World War and the heartache of Vietnam.
Rayburn recounted a phrase she addresses to veterans, "love you now, love you still, love you always."
"A hard act to follow," as Hero Flight committee member Max McFarland called them was up next. The third grade Sandoz Elementary honor choir under the direction of Connie Glaze sang the National Anthem and several other patriotic songs.
Glaze thanked the Hero Flight committee for inviting them each year for opportunity for the students to thank the veterans in this way.
Senator Matt Williams was invited to speak, and has attended all of the Hero Flight send offs.
Williams invoked the concluding words of the Declaration of Independence, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Williams drew comparison between the sacrifice of signatories of the Declaration, with the sacrifice the veterans in the room, indeed, all veterans have made in service to the United States.
Of the 56 signatories, five were captured by the British, tortured and killed , 12 had their homes burned to ash, nine fought and died serving in the Revolutionary War, Williams said.
Like the signatories, these veterans had also put their lives and fortunes on the line. Williams said this dedication to each other and to the country is what makes all of us uniquely American.
Steve Zerr, a founding member of the Dawson County Hero Flight and said the flight was organized for the sole purpose of honoring American veterans for all of their sacrifice and service above self.
In 2014 Zerr was just getting his feet planted in his position as the Veteran’s Services Coordinator for Dawson County when he was approached by Bob Fisher, a Korean war veteran.
Fisher was on the waiting list for a Buffalo County veteran’s flight and told Zerr Dawson County needed to get their own Hero Flight together.
Fisher kept asking Zerr about it, and after the first one was organized, Zerr was eager to call Fisher to tell him he was on the flight. Fisher responded he couldn’t go on the flight, due to medical issues he had little left of his eyesight and wanted to leave the seat open for someone who would enjoy it more, soon after Fisher died.
Zerr said this year Bob Fisher would be going in spirit as a relative, Robert Fisher of Elm Creek, would be going on the flight.
After wishing the 25 veterans a fun time he reminded them to think of all the other veterans and service members who never got a chance like this.
Mike Schulte, a Hero Flight committee member, presented each veteran, and their escort, who would be attending the flight.
Among their numbers there are 16 Army veterans, four Navy sailors, four Air Force airmen and one Marine. There are three Korean vets, 18 Vietnam vets and four who served between 1953 and 1973.
Veterans hailed from the communities of Ansley, Broken Bow, Cozad, Elm Creek, Elwood, Eustis, Gibbon, Gothenburg, Kearney, Octono and Overton.
The group then loaded the bus to head for Eppley Airfield in Omaha and then board a non-stop flight to Washington D.C.