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Honor Flight: “I don’t know if I’m much of a hero, but I did my job”

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(WDAY) -- We're just days away from Memorial Day, what's become the kick off of summer, a weekend filled with bonfires, barbeques and boating, but our recent WDAY Honor Flight highlights its true meaning: honoring those who lost their lives serving our country.

For the soldiers like the 90 humble heroes just back from their once in a life-time trip to our nation's capital, they are not honors saved for one day.

"No, I'm no hero," said Merle Grossman, WWII Army.

"We really weren't heroes.  We did our duty what we did," said Jim Nelson, Korean War Army.

"Well we did what we were told to do to the best of our ability and that's about it," said Sonny Johnson, WWII Air Force.

They reserve the title of hero for those who didn't come home from war.

"I don't know if I'm that much of a hero but I did my job," said Luvern Axness, Korean War Army.

Something they were fortunate enough to do.

"My service time was good memories. I made a mistake I should've stayed in," said Johnson.  

With laughter, tears, and a deep respect, emotions come flooding back as these World War II and Korean War veterans from every branch of the military  take in the memorials built in their honor.

"When I see all this well it brings back memories," said Axness.

Over the last 10 years, more than 1,000 veterans have experienced a WDAY Honor Flight.

"I think it is absolutely overwhelming. I never dreamed. No one has ever thanked me like that before I'll tell you that," said Marrion Walsh, WWII Honor Flight.

They come from different wars, from different towns and have different stories,  

"I got drafted in '45," said Johnson.

"I come to Korea in 1952," said Axness.

from different towns and have different stories.

"I served in World War II and I was a Navy Wave and that was at a time when women couldn't carry ammunition or guns or anything at all," said Walsh.

"One time guns started coming toward us and I jumped in my truck and took off and everybody says where you going and I said the other way and the other guys said we're coming too and they all ran with me," said Jim Nelson, Korean War Army.

These uncommon experiences highlighting a common bond.

A day after meeting on this trip, they talk like long lost friends.

It gives them a chance to look back.

"Everyone says how did you dare go off at 19? And we just decided we'd go because everybody was supposed to do their part and we hadn't done their part yet. So we wanted to be participants, not observers," said Walsh.

They are able to pay tribute to those lost.  

A brother killed in World War II remembered at his memorial in Washington with the flag that draped his casket.

A chance to be reminded of the great gratitude for their willingness to step up when their country called.

A new generation learning about service, courage and sacrifice.

"Just seeing in their eyes that they never thought people cared," said Tracy Briggs, Honor Flight Founder.

For Honor Flight founder Tracy Briggs it's why she and a dedicated committee have worked so hard to fundraise over a million dollars and counting.  

Their goal? - to give every World War II and Korean War veteran the opportunity to not only 'see' their memorials, but 'feel' the appreciation of a community that enjoys freedom because of their sacrifice.

"And we realized that these guys come back to the U.S. and they get on with their lives and build the country and don't look for thank you or respect or anything but yet, they carry a lot of memories," said Briggs.

Depending on fund-raising, there could be another Honor Flight this Fall.

A reminder, a special book is coming out in July that included the stories of every veteran who's been part of a WDAY honor flight it's called "In their Honor".

You can reserve your copy on

Kerstin Kealy

Kerstin was raised in Buffalo, Minnesota. She received her broadcasting degree from Moorhead State University. She started at WDAY in April of 1997 as a reporter. She co-anchors and produces the 6pm and 10pm news.

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