WATERLOO, Iowa --- Over the next two weeks, nearly 200 Cedar Valley area World War II veterans will make one of the most memorable journeys of their lives since their actual military service.
On a pair of flights Tuesday and May 17, they will travel to Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II memorial and other points of interest in the inaugural Honor Flights out of the Waterloo Regional Airport.
"We're ready to fly, the good Lord willing," said Black Hawk County Supervisor Craig White, a Vietnam veteran who organized the local Honor Flight effort through Sullivan-Hartogh-Davis American Legion Post 730 and with initial assistance from Eastern Iowa Honor Flight in Cedar Rapids.
Eighty-seven veterans and their guardians will fly out Tuesday; another 90 will make the trip May 17. It's a one-day trip. In addition to the national World War II memorial, veterans will visit the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War memorials and witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
They'll depart the Waterloo airport at about 7 a.m and return at about 10:30 p.m., when a public homecoming reception is planned. One of the people waiting for them will be Marcia Courbat, a Women's Army Corps veteran of World War II who had the inaugural Eastern Iowa Honor Flight from Cedar Rapids last June. She recommends that any World War II veteran who is physically able to make the flight do it.
"I loved it. It was just something very special," Courbat said. "We were all just like family." Many recalled now-departed veteran friends who would have enjoyed the trip. "I think of my own husband (Dale). He would have enjoyed it," Courbat said. "It was an honor for someone to think of the World War II vets. We were treated just like kings and queens that day. I look back at my (photo) book; I really have relived the trip many times.
"I am so proud Waterloo has it" now, Courbat said. "It was a job to go down to Cedar Rapids."
About half the veterans on the inaugural Cedar Rapids Honor Flight last June were from the Cedar Valley. That prompted White and Eastern Iowa Honor Flight officials to consider Waterloo-originated flights.
About $250,000 has been raised for the Waterloo flights, White said. Among major contributions was a $100,000 donation made by local business owners Burk "Skeet" and Julie Miehe, of American Pattern & CNC Works in honor of their fathers. White said an anonymous individual wanting only to be known as "Santa Claus" gave $50,000. Hy-Vee, veterans posts and Waterloo Regional Airport also are major contributors or supporters. Numerous individual and larger scale fundraising events also have been held. Many young people and youth organizations have been involved.
A third Waterloo-based flight is planned for Sept. 27, which, like the May flights, is booked solid. But White said the flights will continue into 2012, with the first flight anticipated next spring. He said there's an estimated 5,000 living World War II veterans in Black Hawk and surrounding counties. And they're not getting any younger. White noted three veterans booked for upcoming Honor Flights have passed away before being able to make the trip. Special memorials will be conducted for those deceased veterans.
Contributions may be made out to Sullivan-Hartogh-Davis Post 730 Honor Flight and sent to 1563 Oakwood Drive, Waterloo 50703. Cost per seat averages $550. Application forms for veterans and guardians are available online at shdpost730waterloohonorflight.org and clicking on "Documents." White said applications also are available at Hy-Vee stores.