PHOTO: When Lawrence Hermesch arrived home from the Honor Flight at Pennington Square early in the morning on Sept. 11, staff and residents decorated his door to honor the Korean War veteran. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
PHOTO: Lawrence Hermesch (right) and son Joel are seen here with the Lincoln Memorial in the background, while on the Honor Flight on Sept. 10. (Photo submitted)
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Last week, two area Korean War veterans got the chance of a lifetime, to travel with the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight out of Cedar Rapids to Washington, D.C.
Accompanied by their sons, this trip left a lasting impression on them.
The huge smile on Lawrence Hermesch’s face says it all: He’s proud to be a veteran!
On Sept. 10, Hermesch was honored to be able to go on an Eastern Iowa Honor Flight out of Cedar Rapids. As a Korean War veteran, this was his first time seeing all of the wondrous memorials and monuments in Washington, D.C.
The Eastern Iowa Honor Flight is a non-profit organization, dedicated to sending local veterans to our nation’s capital, many for the first time, like Hermesch.
It’s been a couple years since Hermesch even filled out the application to go on the flight. He said he knew the organization was focusing on World War II veterans first. A few months ago, he got a call asking if he’d still be interested in going.
All veterans who go are also encouraged to bring a guardian on the trip, someone to look after them for the day and help them get around if needed. Hermesch asked his son, Joel, to be his guardian. Joel is a master sergeant is the U.S. Air Force and has given 19 years of service.
“He was thrilled to go along,” remarked Hermesch. The father-son duo enjoyed taking in the sights together.
When word spread that he was accepted to go on the trip, Hermesch said he received a call from the Anamosa American Legion commander, of which he is a member of, asking if there was anything he needed or they could do for him prior to the trip. Hermesch said when he got off the plane in Cedar Rapids that night, members of the Anamosa Legion were there to greet him and welcome him home.
There were 81 veterans on the flight, plus guardians. Hermesch said 15 of those were WWII veterans. The long day of travel around D.C. included stops at every memorial, namely the WWII Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, dedicated to those who fought for this country during that era, including Hermesch.
“It was just great to see it,” he remarked. “It was remarkable to see it all!”
Witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Arlington National Cemetery was also a highlight for Hermesch. He said they also presented a wreath at the tomb in honor of the veterans on the Honor Flight.
Hermesch served in the Army from 1954-1956. At the end of his service, he was ranked a specialist.
At the age of 21, Hermesch was living in Kansas on the family farm, working to keep the place going for his mom. (His father passed away in 1952.)
“I had been farming for my mom at the time when three neighbor boys who were also farming were drafted, along with myself,” Hermesch recalled.
He was lucky enough to serve stateside, manning artillery on an island off the coast of Virginia.
“Our job was to protect the Navy,” Hermesch said. “I was a gunner on a 90 mm, which weighed 20 ton. It was just a small one,” he joked.
While Hermesch never went to Korea, he said after all his training he was certainly ready to go if it ever came to that.
“I was there for my duty and I was ready to go if that was what I had to do.”
Serving the country is a common theme in the Hermesch family. As the youngest of nine boys, Hermesch had two brothers serve in WWII and another brother serve in the Korean War as well.
“I was fortunate I didn’t lose any brothers, but we did have some locals who were killed in action.”
Hermesch’s son and youngest daughter are also in the Air Force.
Now, Hermesch and his wife Gerri live at Pennington Square Assisted Living in Monticello.
Overall, he said the Honor Flight trip and welcome home gathering at the Eastern Iowa Airport was emotional.
“It was unbelievable the amount of people there to greet us and those who came up to us in D.C. Every place we went, people greeted us. It was really something!”
John “Bud” Coyle
For Bud Coyle, he could not stop talking about all of the memorials and monuments he saw while on the Sept. 10 Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. Coyle and his son, Gary, were also on the flight out of Cedar Rapids. Gary accompanied his father as his flight guardian. While Coyle had been to Washington, D.C. before, many of the more recent memorials were all new to him. He hadn’t been back for 10 years when he attended an Army reunion in Virginia. This was Gary’s first time to D.C.
A while back, Coyle’s daughter sent in his application to go on the Honor Flight. He was informed just a couple of months ago that he would be going!
Coyle’s first trip to D.C. was right after President John F. Kennedy was shot and laid to rest. He said he went to Arlington National Cemetery but JFK didn’t have a stone at that time, just an eternity candle.
“My brother was in the Marines at the time,” Coyle said. “He was stationed in South Carolina in the mid-’60s.” After going to see his brother, they took a trip to D.C.
Growing up in the Cascade area, Coyle is one of nine siblings. Before he was drafted in 1950, he was working for several area farmers, making a living.
When it was time to get his physical for the service, he said there was so much snow on the ground that they canceled his physical. It wasn’t until November of 1952, at the age of 21, that he enlisted. He was sent to Austria where he spent most of his service.
“I was one of the older one to be drafted,” Coyle said. He served two years in Army, eventually earning the title of corporal.
During his time in the service, Coyle said he drove the lieutenant around and helped lay communication wires for the radios.
“We were told we couldn’t go into town,” Coyle said, “because there were Communists all over.”
After 18 months in Austria, he received word that his mom had a stroke, so he was able to come back home for the family emergency.
“Austria was actually pretty beautiful,” Coyle recalled from his time in the service. He said they saw Adolf Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest,” his retreat during WWII.
The father-son duo said taking in the scenery around Washington, D.C. was time well spent together.
“It was a special trip,” Gary said. “It was an honor to go and be there for my dad. I was proud to go as his guardian. Seeing all of the memorials makes you think about what all of our veterans went through.”
Some of their highlights included the WWII Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard, the Korean War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Coyle said they saw many people protesting at the Capitol, heard about the history of the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery and were greeted by each branch of the military upon arriving at the WWII Memorial.
“It’s just too bad not all WWII vets had a chance to go on the Honor Flight,” remarked Coyle. “It’s a great organization.”
While D.C. was certainly the highlight of the trip, what really got Coyle excited was the homecoming the veterans received when they returned to Cedar Rapids late that night.
“We got the homecoming we never had,” he said of the sea of people, strangers, who came to the airport just to welcome them all home. “It makes me pretty damn proud to be a veteran!”
PHOTO: Bud Coyle relaxes for a photo at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. while on the Honor Flight. (Photo submitted)
PHOTO: Bud Coyle and son Gary were on the Sept. 10 Honor Flight. Here, they pose in front of the Korean War Memorial in D.C. (Photo submitted)