Veterans get ‘memorable’ tour of D.C.

Three veterans from Manistee — Harry and Art Olen, and Harry Foster — accompanied nearly 60 other veterans in Washington, D.C., all guests of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight program. (Courtesy photo)

Three veterans from Manistee — Harry and Art Olen, and Harry Foster — accompanied nearly 60 other veterans in Washington, D.C., all guests of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight program. (Courtesy photo)

Trio of Manistee men travel with Mid-Michigan Honor Flight

One word said it all.

One really, really big smile, underscored it.

There was no need – no way, no how – Harold Olen could narrow his answer to a singular response when asked, “what one thing did you like best about your visit to Washington, D.C. – what was your favorite?”

“Everything,” said the 88-year-old Manistee resident and U.S. Army veteran. “Everything, was my favorite.”

The Olens — brothers Harry and Art of Manistee, and their sons (standing) — pause near the Washington Monument.

The Olens — brothers Harry and Art of Manistee, and their sons (standing) — pause near the Washington Monument.

Olen and his brother, Art, who is one year younger and who’s also from Manistee, traveled to the nation’s capital last week as guests of the growing-in-legend Mid-Michigan Honor Flight.

Their story was unique in that not only were brothers traveling together, but they were being chaperoned by their sons, Steven (with Harold), and Jim (with Art).

In all, 61 World War II and Korean war veterans – including a third vet from Manistee, Greatest Generation leatherneck Harry Foster and his chaperone-son, Larry – flew from Traverse City to Washington, D.C., and back, in one day.

While there they were escorted on a whirlwind tour of the historic monuments in the city – the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, World War II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and more.

Honor Flight is a national program with dozens of state chapters that serve the veterans in their area.

Its purpose is to transport as many veterans as possible, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., so they can visit those monuments and memorials dedicated in honor of the wars they served in.

‘It was humbling, fabulous … fantastic’ 

Harold Olen held up his right hand as though it were a trophy, a prize. He turned it from side to side.

“I never shook so many hands, in my life,” said the former military policeman who once served as a bodyguard to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the post WWII occupation of the Philippines.

“Everywhere we went, people were coming up to us and shaking our hands, telling us ‘thank you.’ At the airports, all over Washington, people wanted to shake our hands.

“It was humbling, fabulous,” he said. “Everyone was fantastic. It certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime (trip). The police escorts got us through so many red lights – zoom, we just kept moving.”

Harold said he and Art sat at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, and looked up at its marvelous structure.

“It’s fantastic, no other word for it – fantastic,” Harold said of that “four score and seven years ago” monument. “I just could not believe it. All of the marble is polished, beautiful.”

Art Olen, a paratrooper during the Korean War, echoed his brother’s enthusiasm.

“The World War II monument is nice,” said Art. “It’s unbelievable what it stands for. Everything we saw, well, it’s hard to explain.

Greatest Generation alumnus Harry Foster spent time in front of the World War II Memorial.  (Courtesy photo)

Greatest Generation alumnus Harry Foster spent time in front of the World War II Memorial. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ll tell you what, we were treated like kings – coming and going, we were treated like royalty.”

The Olens’ sons, Steven and Jim, served as official family photographers for their memorable trip with their fathers.

“They were treated like rock stars,” said Harold’s son, Steven. “The people who run (Mid-Michigan Honor Flight) took care of us, going and coming.

“They told us this was the only trip where two brothers were chaperoned by their sons – special.”

As much as he enjoyed standing by his father’s side during the trip, Jim Olen said he also enjoyed being in the company of all the other honored veterans.

“It was great listening to all the vets – all of ’em – and hearing their wars stories,” said Jim. “It was like listening to history.”

In a short time

Foster served with a U.S. Marine division during World War II that endured 21 straight days of combat in the liberation of Guam.

With his son, Larry, by his side, the Greatest Generation alumnus said he last visited Washington about a decade earlier with his daughter and son-in-law.

“But my, it’s changed a bit,” said Harry. “The World War II Memorial is fascinating. It’s unbelievable.

“The whole trip was great, just great, there’s no other way to say it. The outfit who runs this Honor Flight has organized everything so well. You do a lot, and see a lot, in a short time. But you’ll remember it forever.”

Larry was quick to repeat the same word the others had used, at one time or another.

“Great,” said Larry. “Great. Very well organized, treated them like kings.”

The Honor Flight Network’s stated mission is “to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices,” while the organization’s official

Larry and Harry Foster viewed the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. during a recent Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. (Courtesy photo)

Larry and Harry Foster viewed the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. during a recent Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. (Courtesy photo)

vision is to “honor those whose past service to our nation guarantees the present … and the future for our children and grandchildren.”

Its mission continues, “we hope to give all of these heroes their own memorable, safe and rewarding tour of honor, free for the veteran.”

“Wow, it certainly was memorable,” said Harold Olen. “Everything they did for us, getting us to (Washington), having all the people greet us at the airports, the meals, the Mail Call where we all got letters from kids, everything was done in style.

“They sure made us feel young again, feel appreciated. I never saw anything like it, over 200 flags and 300 people at the Washington airport to wish us goodbye.

“Like I said, I never shook so many hands in my life.”

Upon return to the Traverse City Airport some of the veterans – Harold Olen, included – were presented teddy bears with handwritten notes, created by children.

“Welcome home and thank you for our freedom,” read the note given to Olen. “These bears are made and stuffed with love, our way of saying thank you. Made by Sandra, Carol, Jayne, Wanda, Colleen, Kim, Janice.”

As Olen held tight to his blue teddy bear on the day after he returned to Manistee, his voice went silent, and his eyes watered.

Once again, all he needed was one word to say how he felt, though it took him several seconds to draw the strength to speak that word.

“Unbelievable,” he whispered, his voice shuddered with joy.

Yes, one word said it all.

And one teary-eyed smile, underscored it.

avatar

Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply