Pelican area veterans, and their escorts, take the Honor Flight to Washington D.C.
Two area veterans enjoyed a trip to remember, as part of the most recent Honor Flight to Washington D.C.
World War II era veteran Elroy Backstrom and Korean era veteran Chester Trites, joined a party of more than 150 Sept. 30- Oct. 1.
“He loved being there the entire time…it was stunning,” said Scott Backstrom, who accompanied his father on the journey. “The veterans were treated like gold the entire time. In the airport terminal, people started cheering and whooping it up. There were so many moments…of smiles and tears at the same time.”
“I had never really been on a trip with my father–just the two of us,” said Scott. “We’ve fished together locally and spent time in the area; but this was a unique opportunity.”
At age 93, Elroy is a resident at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home.
Elroy earned the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. Stationed in Georgia, he was injured during training and did not go overseas, but he served his full tour of duty as a mechanic, welder and marksman–and was an instructor, according to Scott.
It was also a unique opportunity for Chester Trites and his grandson, Andrew Trites, a veteran himself who served two tours in Afghanistan as a five year U.S. Marine.
“We saw 20 different memorials,” noted Chester, including the World War II memorial, the Roosevelt monument and the Korean war monument. Chester served in Europe from 1952-1954. He comes from a family that served–with four brothers serving in the Army during World War II, and another brother who served in Korea.
It was a once in a lifetime experience for Chester and grandson Andrew, 31, who is a pharmacy student at NDSU in Fargo.
“It was amazing,” said Scott Backstrom. “We had a police escort the entire time there. They stopped traffic for us…and we blew right through red lights. Even visiting heads of foreign countries rarely get a full escort.”
Returning to Fargo after the whirlwind tour was also “amazing,” said Scott.
“There must of been about 2,000 people cheering when we got off the plane in Fargo,” said Scott.
Elroy grew up in the Erhard Hills, near modern day Maplewood State park.
Elroy has the distinction of serving as the park’s first Ranger.
While the Honor Flight is free for participating veterans, it takes a great deal of money to be put on twice a year. Each Honor Flight costs approximately $150,000. That amount includes arranging the flight and ground transportation, as well as lodging and the banquet.
The chartered plane, from Fargo to Washington D.C., costs about $80,000 per year, noted Scott Backstrom.
All expenses are paid for the veterans. Their escorts pay their own way.
The Honor Flight program is enthusiastically funded by individual donors and non-profit organizations, including the Pelican Rapids VFW Club–which has contributed.
Numerous Pelican area veterans have taken the Honor Flight.