Marshall Korean War veteran looking forward to special flight

MARSHALL – In three days, Korean War veteran Francis “Fran” Mortier of Marshall and his daughter, Karen Bender, will board a flight at 4 a.m. from St. Cloud. Their destination: Washington, D.C., to see war memorials and witness the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. They will return at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Mortier. “I’ve never been there.”

Mortier was drafted in 1951 and discharged in 1952, he said.

“I was a welder in the Philippine Islands, in a blacksmith shop,” he said.

Mortier and Bender will go as part of the Honor Flight program, which is a non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans. The Honor Flight Network has hub programs across America.

Bender applied last June through the nearest city to her which is Madison, Wis., but it has a two-year waiting list. She then applied to St. Cloud Honor Flight and got in.

“I feel extremely blessed,” she said. “We are very fortunate to be a part of it.”

The program typically is free to veterans, but since Mortier is out of the area, he had to pay $600 and guardians have to pay as well.

This might be the last Honor Flight from the St. Cloud hub, Bender said.

“They are having trouble with fundraising,” she said. “It costs $90,000 per flight.”

Bender is also a veteran. She served from 1975-1980 and was stationed in Hawaii and Germany.

The two attended an orientation March 16 in St. Cloud. The guardians attended one session and the vets another. The veterans were told what to expect from the day, and the guardians were told what is expected from them.

“Our responsibility is safety,” Bender said, adding that the coordinators emphasized that fall prevention was important.

The guardians also have to make sure the veterans are hydrated.

“We were told that the veterans get all wrapped up in what they’re doing so they don’t stop to drink water,” she said.

One hundred veterans will be on the flight Tuesday, from World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars.

Mortier, and his wife, GeorgieAnn “Hon” Mortier, will drive to St. Cloud the night before in order to be ready for that 4 a.m. boarding time, and they will stay in St. Cloud Tuesday night as well.

The travelers will wear color-coded T-shirts including a certain color for the vets and colors for the emergency medical technicians.

When the Honor Flight lands at Dulles International Airport, the veterans will be greeted by local military members and residents from the Washington, D.C. area.

The veterans are then bused to Arlington National Cemetery. With front row seats for the WWII veterans in wheelchairs, all the veterans will be able to see the changing of the guard.

The next stop will be the National Mall area, where veterans will spend time reflecting at the Korean War Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial.

Bender said three videographers travel with the group and will take videos all day. A month after the tour, the group will get together for a dinner and watch the resulting video and receive a video to keep.

Bender said she has talked to veterans who have gone on the Honor Flight.

“They’ve said it was an incredible experience,” she said. The Honor Flight is a way “to honor the vets, to welcome them. Some veterans weren’t welcomed back.”