PHOTO: This was taken as Joe Ironside (far left) was leaving Cedar Rapids for the Honor Flight trip to D.C. on May 21. Also pictured are Vietnam veteran Harold Christ from Des Moines and their guardian on the trip, Joe’s son Mike Ironside. (Photos submitted)
PHOTO: Ironside had never seen the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He said it was an impressive sight to see.
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Joe Ironside, a Monticello Korean War veteran, has been to Washington, D.C. several times in the past as a United States Postal Service (USPS) employee. But when he was picked to go on the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight out of Cedar Rapids on May 21, this trip was extra special. Ironside’s guardian on the trip was his son, Mike Ironside, of Dubuque. He said Mike had never been to D.C. before, which added to the excitement and anticipation of the day’s events.
Ironside served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-55. He said he served four years and one day. Ironside said he was fortunate he didn’t have to go to Korea; he served stateside in both Florida and Virginia. Starting out on a repair ship working alongside Naval mechanics, Ironside ended up becoming a barber in the Navy. His experience having gone to barber college led to his change in stature.
After Ironside completed barber college in Cedar Rapids, he said he heard the U.S. Army was drafting young men his age. Ironside’s father and brother both served in the Navy in WWI and WWII respectively, so he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“I come from a Navy family,” he said.
So, he enlisted in the Navy rather than wait for the draft.
During his time in the service, Ironside also played on the Navy basketball team for 2 years.
He said when you’re in the service, no matter which branch you serve in, you’re thrown into working alongside so many different people.
“You learn how to get along with everyone,” expressed Ironside.
He said that rule of thumb carried over into his later life when he became a Postal Service worker and Post Master.
“I ended up working in a lot of different communities and with a lot of different people,” said Ironside of his USPS career. “I was new to a community and I had to get to know everyone.”
His USPS career eventually brought Ironside to Monticello. He served as Post Master here from 1979-92. During that time, as chapter secretary/treasurer, he’d travel to D.C. and meet with Iowa congressmen and senators to lobby on behalf of the USPS.
In all, Ironside spent 20 years as a Post Master in five different communities in Iowa. He retired 21 years ago, with over 40 years of service in the U.S. government.
About a year ago, Ironside was given an application for the Honor Flight by good friend Marge Helgens, whose husband, Galen, also a veteran, was looking into applying for. Ironside said he and Galen were on the same list of applicants, but unfortunately, Galen passed away before he was able to go on the flight.
After a year went by, he said he never gave the trip much thought until they called him with the details of the flight. With his son also approved as a guardian, they made arrangements to go.
“Mike was really enthused about the trip,” said Ironside. Besides his father, Mike was also guardian to a Vietnam veteran from Des Moines, Harold Christ.
In all, there were 90 veterans on the flight from Iowa to D.C.
“It was a beautiful day!” expressed Ironside.
Their first stop was the WWII Memorial, a landmark Ironside had never seen in his travels to D.C. While there, they were greeted by Iowa Congressmen Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley.
Other stops on their trip included: Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Air Force Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery where they also witnessed the changing of the guard.
As a Korean War veteran, Ironside said it was special for him to see the Memorial.
“It’s quite impressive,” he marveled.
While seeing all of the sights of D.C., what really took Ironside’s breath away was the reception back home when they landed in Cedar Rapids. It brought him to tears recalling the sea of people who were at the Eastern Iowa Airport (even when their flight was delayed in D.C.) cheering on the veterans as they were escorted off the plane. Legion members played patriotic tunes, little kids waved American flags and everyone extended a hand of thanks to the veterans for their service to this country. Ironside said even current military members in uniform thanked them, when he said they deserve a thanks as well.
“It was quite emotional,” he said of the crowd of at least a thousand people.
As a veteran, Ironside admitted that, for years, the concept didn’t mean a whole lot to him.
“I was young, married and focused on raising my family,” he said.
But he thinks of all those veterans, unlike himself, who witnessed so much while in Korea. “I think about all vets and the experiences they had. I have a deeper respect for those people.”
PHOTO: Here’ Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack addresses the Honor Flight veterans (in red) and guardians (in blue) at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
PHOTO: This proves just how majestic the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. really is, with Ironside posing at the base.