GALION — For Unted States Army veterans Rich Henry and Jim Dretzka, both from Galion, their Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., last week was a memorable experience.
Henry served in the Army Reserve from 1961 to 1966. Dretzka served from 1963 to 1966, spending six months of his last year in the military in Vietnam.
From the visits to monuments and memorials to meeting a member of the “The Old Guard” — the soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — both Henry and Dretzka said the short time spent in the nation’s capital was truly special, especially just a week before Veterans Day.
“It was fantastic, unbelievable,” Henry, age 81, said. “Even though I’ve been there probably 10, 12, 14 times, there were still things they were able to show us that I had not seen.”
While Henry has visited Washington, D.C., on numerous occasions, Dretzka was making just his second trip there. The first time was in 1961 following graduation from high school.
“It wasn’t as great back then to me or at least I didn’t pay as much attention then, but this was really a good experience,” Dretzka, age 79, said. “Everything went so smooth. We also met some (veterans) from Kansas City. They were very good to be around. The highlight for me was seeing all the monuments. At the Korean memorial, those (statues of the) soldiers looked so real. Their eyes looked so real. They each had their guns. It was just something to see.
“The other big thing was the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Dretzka added. “That was really impressive how those young men can do that.”
Henry said one of the highlights of the trip was meeting a member of “The Old Guard,” a U.S. Army unit assigned the guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. He said they encountered the young man while he was working out one morning in the cemetery.
“The sergeant of the guard was out jogging and he came over to meet the vets,” Henry said. “We were very impressed with him.”
According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, “The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as ‘The Old Guard,’ was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit on April 6, 1948. At that time, The Old Guard began guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Soldiers of The Old Guard also serve as escorts to the president and conduct military ceremonies in and around Washington, D.C., including military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery.”
Both Henry and Dretzka expressed deep appreciation for their Honor Flight Columbus guardian, retired U.S. Army Col. Poco Morera, and the rest of the Honor Flight Columbus volunteers.
“Jim and I were both utterly amazed at all they did for us,” Henry said. “We didn’t have to do anything.”
“We were treated very well the whole time and they took good care of us,” Dretzka said.
Honor Flight Columbus was founded in 2006 by Bill and Bobbi Richards to, as the organization’s mission statement reads, “honor America’s senior veterans with a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the nation’s memorials. To help them share their stories. To celebrate and affirm their service and homecoming.”
For information about Honor Flight Columbus or to get information about supporting the organization, go to its website www.honorflightcmh.org.