Jones Co. veterans take part in Honor Flight

By: 
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

Several Monticello area veterans got the chance of a lifetime recently when they were selected to take part in the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. 

Flying out of the Cedar Rapids Airport on April 16, the plane was full of WWII, Vietnam and Korean War veterans and their guardians as they flew to Washington, D.C. for a tour of the nation’s capital. Many had not been to D.C. before. 

Brothers Bob and Dick Meier, members of the Monticello High School Class of 1959, were two of the veterans on the flight. Bob now resides in Springville; Dick in Cedar Rapids. 

Rather than wait to be drafted, both men joined the Army in ’59 and served through 1962. 

“We volunteered for the service,” said Dick. “We wanted to get it over with.” 

“We knew we didn’t want to go to college,” added Bob, noting that those in college received a deferment. 

Both brothers were sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training. They went on to medical school, where they learned the basics of applying first aid, at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. 

“We were medical specialists,” said Bob. 

They drove ambulances and supply trucks attached to their outfit. Bob also drove his field battalion commander. 

“We did more driving than medical work,” Bob joked. 

They spent 31 months in Germany, and never saw major combat like many of their classmates in Vietnam. 

“We were only supposed to be there for 24 months, but (President) Kennedy extended our tour,” recalled Dick. 

“So we were there six months longer than we were supposed to be,” added Bob. 

As twins, the brothers joked that no one could tell them apart because they served in the same squad, same platoon, and wore the same clothes. 

Growing up on a farm near Monticello, the Meiers said they knew the importance of hard work. In fact, Dick said they were asked to extend their service after four years because of their dedication. 

While in Germany, they witnessed the start of the construction of the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Germany for 30 years. 

For the Meier brothers, it was important that they both go on the Honor Flight together. They also brought their sons (Brent Meier and Scott Meier), who served as their guardians. Aside from serving together, both veterans are also afraid to fly. 

After sending their names to the Honor Flight organization over two years ago, they received word earlier this year that they were chosen for one of the 2019 flights. 

“It’s a pretty good deal,” remarked Dick. “Our boys got as much out of the experience as we did. It was a good opportunity for our boys.”

He said all of the veterans were treated well and honored like heroes throughout the daylong trip. “But the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come back,” Dick said. 

“We made it back because we didn’t go to Vietnam,” said Bob. 

Knowing of the grand welcome-home ceremony the Honor Flight recipients received that night of their return, the Meiers said they didn’t have that when they came home in ’62. 

“All people said was, ‘The Meier boys are back in town,’” laughed Dick, referring to their arrival home after the service. 

While Dick had been to D.C. several years ago, this gave him a whole new perspective seeing the capital along with so many other veterans. This was Bob’s first trip to D.C. himself. 

“I liked the memorials a lot,” said Bob. “The Korean Memorial, the statues look so real.” 

The Honor Flight buses received a D.C. police escort everywhere they went. 

“We didn’t stop for anything,” said Dick. “It was a fantastic deal; we both appreciate that they (Honor Flight) do this.” 

Bob said people treated the veterans with the utmost respect in D.C. “People you didn’t know were coming up to thank you for your service and give you high-fives. People still believe in patriotism.” 

Upon seeing Arlington National Cemetery, Bob said the sea of white gravestones is the reason we are free today. 

“We’re all one more or less,” said Dick of the burials in Arlington. “We’re all together.” 

While on the flight, the Meiers ran into a former classmate from MHS and veteran who now resides in Marion: Dennis “Smitty” Smith. 

“We met a lot of good buddies in the service,” recalled Bob. 

Dick has taken trips to visit many of his former comrades around the country. 

“We’ve always talked about going back (to Germany) but we don’t like to fly,” said Bob. 

After their time in Germany, the Meiers dedicated their lives to raising families and working for over 40 years. 

“I’m glad to be a veteran and glad to have served,” said Dick. 

“We did what we had to do at the time,” Bob said. “And we hope we made an impact.” 

Dennis (Denny) Gray of Monticello was also on the same Honor Flight on April 16. Gray went along with his brother as well and Vietnam veteran Don Gray. Don is mayor of Central City. 

“It was a chance to see D.C.,” said Gray, a first-time visitor. 

Like the Meiers brothers, Gray sent in his application for the flight almost three years ago. “It’s a well-run organization,” remarked Gray of the Honor Flight as a whole. 

Recalling the police escorts throughout D.C., Gray said, “It was pretty impressive.” 

Both Gray brothers also served during Vietnam. Seeing the Vietnam Memorial Wall was a must, as Don was able to locate a friend’s name on the wall. 

Gray said the welcome-home ceremony at the Cedar Rapids Airport was a treat, considering the lack of a warm welcome he received upon returning from the service. 

“The airport was absolutely full,” said Gray. “It was three or four people deep on each side. People shook your hand and congratulated you.” 

Gray said if you were ever in uniform out in public, people would spout derogatory messages toward service members. “I was never physically attacked,” he said looking back. 

Unlike the welcome ceremonies held today, Gray said people weren’t returning home en masse. 

Gray said seeing all of the memorials was a highlight, not one in particular. 

“Everything was meaningful,” he said. 

Gray said he learned a lot about Arlington Cemetery, which sits on 675 acres. There are over 400,000 headstones, and every single one receives an American Flag on Memorial Day. 

“They have 25-30 funerals a day,” shared Gray. “It’s unbelievable how many headstones there are; I had no idea.” 

Gray served in the Air Force from 1969 to ’73. His brother joined two years prior, which spurred his interest in the Force. Gray said his goal was to stay out of infantry. 

“I signed up and enlisted in high school before the draft,” he said. “I was able to pick my branch.” 

Gray said several young boys from Monticello went to Dubuque at the time to enlist. 

He said had the military been a different atmosphere then, he might have made his service a career. 

Gray spent time in Thailand, working on warplanes, providing mechanical and instrumental repair work. 

“It was a specialized service,” he said. 

Upon returning home in California, Gray said it was a hard transition from military to civilian life. He took up carpentry/upholstery work when he came “home” to Monticello and started his own business in 1976, something he’s been doing ever since. 

Gray said being a veteran means a lot to him. “I’m proud of what I did.” 

He is very active in the Monticello veteran organizations, something he’s been doing since he returned home in the ‘70s. Gray also serves as a Jones County Veteran Affairs commissioner. “I’m the senior member,” he said. 

He said it means a lot that he can help his fellow veterans find the services they deserve. “I want to help these veterans get what’s coming to them and to know about all 

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