Wisconsin's chief warden welcomes WWII vets on Badger Honor FlightThe values demonstrated by the World War II veterans who rebuilt America in the 1940s and ‘50s are what Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark says are the foundation of the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Service.
By: By Joanne M. Haas/Bureau of Law Enforcement, Superior Telegram
The values demonstrated by the World War II veterans who rebuilt America in the 1940s and ‘50s are what Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark says are the foundation of the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Service.
"This is the generation whose lives exemplified honesty, honor, public service and strength,” Stark said. “It’s how they lived and live today – not what they said or say. There is a life lesson here for recruit wardens and veteran wardens alike.”
And that’s why Chief Stark was in the crowd Saturday night when the 10th Badger Honor Flight returned to the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison after a day visiting veteran memorials in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.
Party pack: Hundreds enjoy teary, uplifting reception
They’ve been called America’s “Greatest Generation” by author Tom Brokaw who wrote the World War II veterans never whined or whimpered, came home from battle, quietly nursed their wounds and immediately went to work rebuilding an America based upon their common values of duty, service, honor and self-responsibility.
Some loved ones are more apt to call them the Silent Generation -- the soldiers who never talked about their tours of duty or how they suffered the injuries that left permanent scars of all sorts.
But Saturday night, they were the Celebrated Generation -- welcomed at the Dane County airport like rock stars by hundreds who hugged a two-sided receiving line where tears were as common as outstretched hands and hugs.
Chief Stark was invited by organizers to attend the Badger Honor Flight return reception and represent the state’s conservation warden service.
When Chief Stark arrived at the airport around 7:30 p.m., the crowd already was building along both sides of the reception line -- well in advance of the plane's return around 9:30 p.m.
Volunteers provided free refreshments and visited with families and friends who arrived early to get a good spot along the reception lane as other volunteers walked with signs keeping the growing crowd up-to-date on the flight status.
A man dressed as Uncle Sam posed with families. Bucky Badger and Maynard G. Mallard, the mascot of the Madison-based baseball team, worked both sides of the reception line as a band played, keeping the mood of the airport more like a wedding dance party than a gigantic waiting room.
There were signs, balloons, kids, babies, generations of families in clusters camped from one end of the airport to the other. This was one festive place that got even more jazzed once the plane landed and the vets started to walk the reception line as the crowd clapped and cried.
The veterans and their traveling partners left the plane in groups of 25. Each rode the airport's escalator down to the crowded floor to walk the reception lane. By this time, the band switched from its party music to the military themes, which were played repeatedly until the last veteran was off the plane and through the reception line.
There were men and women veterans -- some walked, some in wheelchairs and some with walkers. And all were greeted with a hero's welcome. And, it appeared most people honored the organizers' request to stay in place and cheer until the last of the roughly 100 veterans were off the plane and down the reception lane.
Flight is gift to veterans
May 4 was the 10th Badger Honor Flight to carry World War II veterans on a free trip from Madison to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to the military -- including Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Marine Corp War Memorial, World War II Memorial, Air Force and the Korean/Vietnam Veteran War Memorials.
More than 900 veterans have participated in the Badger Honor Flights since their inaugural trip in 2010.
Organizers say Saturday’s flight also included Korean War veterans as the number of WWII veterans is declining. Among those Korean War veterans on the Saturday flight was the father of Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.
Laurie Ross of the DNR, whose father Edmund Ross served in WWII and the Air Force Reserves, flew with her father on the day’s flight.
“Everywhere we went today in Washington, there were crowds like this – welcoming us,” Ross said, as she went down the reception line with her father. Edmund Ross retired as a Wisconsin State Patrol sergeant in 1981.
“This is something the recruit wardens should see and understand,” Stark said, surrounded by people who were doing as much crying as cheering for each veteran that passed.
Do you know a veteran who would enjoy taking a Badger Honor Flight?
The Badger Honor Flight is a Wisconsin affiliate of the Honor Flight Network, a national program that seeks to provide WWII and terminally ill veterans from all wars a chance to see the memorials built in the veterans’ honor. The flight network provides everything connected to the flight free to the veterans. The only money a veteran would be required to use on the flight would be to purchase personal souvenirs.
Learn more about the Badger Honor Flight at this website www.badgerhonorflight.org.