Honor Flight Takes Milt Kane to D.C.

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Ellie Boese
Since 2005, the Honor Flight Network has honored more than 180,000 veterans with all-expenses-paid trips to Washington, D.C. The program was created to give veterans the opportunity to visit the memorials dedicated to them and to honor their service, even if they are unable to travel there themselves.
The idea for Honor Flight came to physician and retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse when the World War II memorial was finished in 2004. He was troubled knowing that many of the people he had served with would be unable to visit the memorial, and he responded by personally flying two veterans to visit the site. After proposing to other pilots the idea of flying more veterans to the memorial, Morse and other colleagues flew six small planes to Washington, D.C., taking 12 veterans on the first Honor Flight. Since then, the non-profit program has moved to fly veterans on commercial airlines from upwards of 140 Honor Flight hubs in 45 states.
Since 2007, the hubs that serve North Dakota and Minnesota have provided over 1,200 veterans with the opportunity to visit their D.C. memorials.
When Joe Pesek learned about the program, he started asking around to see if local veterans were interested in taking part. He was surprised to find that very few, if any, had been approached or contacted to participate in Honor Flight. That’s why he got involved in July of this year, printing out applications for the program and giving them to local veterans and others who knew someone else potentially interested. So far, he’s spoken to 3 area veterans about taking the trip. One of them hopes to go on the spring trip, and another, Milt Kane, left Fargo on the latest Honor Flight Sept. 29.
Before the September trip, Pesek said he was really excited to see Kane get to go. “He and I grew up 3 miles from each other for a long time and even though we were a ways apart in age, we were really good friends,” Pesek said. “After I got out of the Army, he was my service officer.”
Pesek himself is a Vietnam era veteran, drafted by the Army in 1972. His was the first regiment not sent into Vietnam, and he remained in the United States through the duration of the war. He’s been to the D.C. memorials and understands the importance of getting others there. “A lot of vets missed out on the memorials that weren’t completed soon enough,” he said, “and I just want to make sure I give back to these guys in any way that I can.”
Milt Kane, who just turned 90 this summer, served in the military for 32 years after joining the National Guard in Sept. of 1947. When his infantry was federalized for the Korean war, he and his regiment shipped off to serve as replacements for soldiers injured or otherwise leaving the front lines in Korea. He was a Major when he retired.
“My life’s work was military training and working with vets,” Kane said. “Since I’d been to the D.C. memorials when I had military training, I sat back and let other folks go. But Joe [Pesek] called me up and said there were openings on the next flight.”
Kane was looking forward to seeing the completed World War II memorial in D.C. “I hear it is just phenomenal.”
The Honor Flight left Fargo’s Hector International Airport on Sept. 29 and returned Oct. 1. They spent two days in the Capitol touring national monuments including Arlington National Cemetery, WWII, Korean and Vietnam memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and many others. They are escorted through the city on a trip many of them are too humble to quickly accept, and when they come home, a crowd of hundreds gathered at Fargo’s Hector International Airport to welcome them home.
Before the veterans exit the plan, a band played for hours as families, friends, and volunteers came in. Joe Pesek was moved by the welcome home, and he got there early to get pictures of his friend and mentor Milt Kane deplane.
People clapped and waved and saluted as the veterans came into view, overwhelmingly vocal of their thanks for the service the men had given. Pesek noticed a man shaking each veterans’ hand.
“He was thanking each and every one of them for their service,” he said. “That’s something some vets never got, just a thank you. He was giving them that.”
Kane was smiling as he came out of the gate. Legionnaires and Auxiliary held flags, forming two straight lines through which each veteran passed. Toward the exit, veterans in and out of uniform lined the stairs, and hundreds of people stood down by check-in windows and baggage check-in. The band played a medley of each military branch’s song, and the crowd applauded. A hero’s welcome offered by those who benefited so much from those who hear “thank you” too little.
If you know a veteran who might be interested in Honor Flight, you can download and print program applications from the website, www.veteranshonorflightofndmn.org. Honor Flight also accepts donations to fund the trips to D.C.