Pictured, from left, are Bob Mortland, Senior Services Plus information and assistance coordinator Devon Neal and Pete Kochersperber.
In the early morning hours of Monday, March 24, two Alton area veterans were taken by bus to the Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.
By sunrise, Bob Mortland, 80, and Pete Kochersperger, 92, were on a plane heading toward Washington, D.C., as part of Land of Lincoln’s 25th Honor Flight.
“We were bright-eyed and ready to go,” Kochersperger said. “We were so excited and couldn’t wait to see what the Honor Flight was all about.”
The Honor Flight program is a nationwide network that began in 2005, dedicated to providing veterans a free trip to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials honoring their service and sacrifice.
“We were treated like royalty from start to finish,” Kochersperger added. “I had a guardian that was able to push me around town so that I could see everything there was to see.”
Trained volunteer guardians provide assistance and accompany veterans on their flight. The program also gives top priority on every flight to veterans suffering a terminal illness.
Mortland and Kochersperger are enrollees in the Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies program at Senior Services Plus, which is where they both learned about the Honor Flight.
“We had heard of it but were not really filled in on the details,” said Mortland. “We attended a breakfast at Senior Services Plus on Veterans Day, where Land of Lincoln Honor Flight came and spoke to our group and gave us the chance to sign up.”
The Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies program, funded through the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Scratch-off Lottery Cash Grant, provides a Wellness Center membership, personal training and monthly social networking events at no cost to veterans. Enrollees may be from any conflict but must have proof of honorable discharge and a minimum of 10 percent disability rating.
“The entire experience was emotional, and at some points, overwhelming,” Mortland said. “We would definitely go again if we could.”
Each veteran was provided with sponsored meals and gifts, as well as a T-shirt and hat, color-coordinated to the individual’s conflict: blue for World War II, yellow for Korea and red for Vietnam.
While in the nation’s capital, Mortland and Kochersperger were able to visit historical sites like the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials. They also stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Air Force Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On their flight home, each veteran experienced “mail call,” where letters and cards were given out. Representatives from Land of Lincoln obtained the notes by reaching out to high school students in the Springfield area.
When asked their favorite part of the trip, both locals were naming off several sites and highlights. It was evident that both Mortland and Kochersperger had a very memorable time on their flight.
“The flight was moving for us both, and we were glad to experience it together as friends,” said Kochersperger. “We were all from different conflicts, but during that flight we were all united, and were able to share the passion that we all have for our country.”