Members of the Nebraska Patriot Guard Riders and area law enforcement provided the escort as 12 veterans and their guardians stopped Scottsbluff en route for an Honor Flight to Washington DC. The group was headed to Denver International Airport before traveling to the nation’s capitol and a visit to the nation’s military monuments.
The group started their trip Thursday morning from Chadron. Additional stops were scheduled in Kimball and Ft. Morgan, Colorado.
Vietnam veteran Joseph Johnson, of Hay Springs, is making his first trip to the nation’s capitol, although he was stationed in Virginia during the war, not far from Washington.
“We forget to recognize so many of our veterans anymore, especially from Vietnam,” he said. “I wanted to be there to remember them and their sacrifice.”
Ken Vern Merlatt was in the Air Force during the Desert Storm campaign. With 24 years of service, he was a crew chief and jet engine mechanic, working on four different models: the KC-135, F-4, F-105 and F-16.
“It means a lot to me to honor the veterans who have served before,” Merlatt said. “I never went to the Middle East, but I was at Miramar Air Station in San Diego doing top gun exercises with the F-16 for the Navy.”
Planning the trip from Chadron south through the Panhandle and on to Denver take a lot of scheduling and support from other agencies. Since 2014, Chadron Police Chief and Marine veteran Tim Lordino has been coordinating that support.
“I set up the law enforcement escort for the trip to Denver,” Lordino said. “I also help set up all the logistical details like schedules and times. This is a great deal to be involved in.”
He said one of the more touching sights he sees is along the rural areas when the Honor Flight veterans come by.
“I’ll see a mom and a husband and two kids standing on a dirt road and waving an American flag way out in the country,” he said. “That really gives me goosebumps.”
Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Rick Aurich served eight years as an air traffic controller. He spoke briefly during the veterans’ lunch break in Scottsbluff.
“We sleep peacefully tonight because of those who raised their hands to serve,” he said. “Military men and women knew the risks but they accepted them to help keep America great.”
David Chvala and Andrew Marquez Sr., who joined the procession in Scottsbluff, were presented with quilts from the Folds of Valor Foundation. Members of the Panhandle Blocks chapter, based in Alliance, hand stitch the quilts that were presented to veterans.
“This project has been an act of love in appreciation,” member Pat Mracek, of Alliance, said. “We’ve had many stitchers from around the area help us complete these quilts.”
She said a Quilt of Valor is a formal expression of appreciation from a grateful nation. Since the foundation was formed in 2003, more than 232,000 quilts have been awarded throughout the U.S.
“The Latin root for valor is worthy,” Mracek said. “We believe all men and women who put on a uniform and swear an oath to do whatever they were called to do to protect our country, they are worthy. Quilts of Valor say what words cannot — Thank you. We honor you for your service.”