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Korean War vet takes Honor Flight

Ted Gambczynski, Peterson Air Force Base Retirees Activities Office director, looks through mementos from his Honor Flight of Southern Colorado experience April 21-23 in Washington, DC. He flew into the nation’s capital with 15 other Korean War veterans and 10 WWII veterans to tour historic memorials in honor of their military service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

Ted Gambczynski, Peterson Air Force Base Retirees Activities Office director, looks through mementos from his Honor Flight of Southern Colorado experience April 21-23 in Washington, DC. He flew into the nation’s capital with 15 other Korean War veterans and 10 WWII veterans to tour historic memorials in honor of their military service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The word honor is a verb meaning “regard with great respect.” Since 2005, when a dozen WWII veterans were flown to Washington, DC for a tour of the WWII Memorial, about 100,000 former service members have been honored in similar fashion through the Honor Flight Network.

On April 21, Ted Gambczynski, Peterson Air Force Base Retirees Activities Office director, climbed on a bus with 25 other veterans, and headed out to catch a DC-bound flight from Denver International Airport. A retired U.S. Marine Corps sergeant major, he served in Korea in 1952 operating heavy equipment with the “cannon cockers” of the 11th Marines (Artillery) Regiment.

Originally the flights were meant to get WWII veterans to the memorial, but with that group shrinking, trips for veterans of subsequent wars are being accepted. To date, Honor Flight of Southern Colorado has sent 15 Korean War veterans on the trip.

Gambczynski first heard he was eligible to participate from a Marine Corps buddy who took part in an honor flight.

“He called about a year and a half ago and said he’d just been on one,” Gambczynski said. “He asked, ‘when are you going?’”

He contacted the Honor Flight program, filled out the questionnaire and before long, received a letter with further instructions on how to take one of the flights.

“I was extremely pleased and flattered to be chosen, because there are a lot of us,” he said.

The flights take place over a weekend, beginning with travel and hotel check-in on a Thursday. On Friday a typical day includes visits to the WWII and Korean War Memorials and, if veterans wish, a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. After that it depends on the group, said Nancetta Westcott, HFSC board member and veterans’ coordinator.

“We might go to the FDR Memorial, or the Women in Military Service for America Memorial if there are women included on the trip,” Westcott said.

Saturday features a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to witness the changing of the guard.

The purpose of the Honor Flight trip was not lost on Gambczynski and his fellow veterans. In his mind one of the most prominent memories of the trip was the crowds of people who welcomed them to each place the group visited, he said. When they arrived at Dulles International Airport, firetrucks honored them by creating an arch of water for them to travel through.

At the World War II Memorial the veterans were met by a group of children who were interested in what they experienced in their military careers.

“Many of them would shake our hands,” Gambczynski said. “They knew enough about us to be truly appreciative of what we’ve done.”
Other people throughout the trip shared their appreciation for what group members did decades ago. He told of a twenty-something Korean waitress who worked in the hotel where they stayed. She told Gambczynski that her parents and grandparents are indebted to anyone who served there.

The short, but nostalgic journey was filled with fond memories for Gambczynski and his companions. He found the experience particularly rewarding in the sense that he did it all in the company of people who shared the same experiences through their military service.

“The sentiment at the Korean War Memorial meant so much because you could close your eyes and remember,” said Gambczynski.

On the Honor Flight trip, the veterans relied upon the guardians who accompanied them. Gambczynski said he cannot say enough about them and the attention they paid to the veterans. Guardians pay their own way on the trips, Gambczynski said.

Wolcott said 23 guardians accompanied the group. They take care of the veterans, provide safety, handle their luggage and take care of other details.

“The guardians pretty much do all the work,” Westcott said. “The veterans are responsible for enjoying the trip and having fun.”
Gambczynski recommends that any eligible veteran should take part in the Honor Flights.

“If there is an opportunity, by all means, unless you are on your death bed, go,” he said. “They will take care of you. Just the fact of travelling with people from your generation and recalling (past experiences) was very satisfying to me.”

The next HFSC flight will happen in October, but the exact weekend is not determined at this point, Westcott said.

For more information on flights or volunteering, contact Honor Flight of Southern Colorado at (719) 258-9946 or visit www.honorflightsoco.org

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