Friends enjoy Honor Flight experience

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Two local Vietnam veterans and good friends, Bill Werges (left) and Bob Siegele, went on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Since it began in 2009, the non-profit Eastern Iowa Honor Flight has sent over 2,300 Iowa veterans to the nation’s capital to visit a variety of war memorials and historic sites. 

On Oct. 17, two local veterans and good friends, Bob Siegele and Bill Werges, joined the list, as they traveled from Cedar Rapids to Washington, D.C.

The two were among 87  veterans—along with guardians and other volunteers—who made the day-long trip.

“I’d been out there before,” said Siegele, a Marquette native and Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force from 1964-1969. “My first time out there was on a citizenship course through the county 4-H. I was a junior in high school.”

This time around, he added, “I wanted to see how it had changed and also see the new memorials.”

Among the sites the group took in were the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, U.S. Air Force and Lincoln Memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery. Their charter buses took them past the White House, U.S. Capitol and other historic places.

“We spent about an hour at every place,” remarked Werges, who’s from Garnavillo. Also a Vietnam veteran, he served in the Army from 1965-1967. “The tour guide knew everything.”

“It was all first-class. They stopped traffic just like they do for the president,” Siegele noted with a smirk.

Werges said he was most impressed with the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where the group witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“They don’t blink,” said Siegele, “and it’s so precise.”

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial was also a moving experience for the two veterans. There, they found the names of Clayton County soldiers who died in the war.

“There are 58,000 names on the wall,” Siegele stated. “It was quite a sacrifice.”

Other Honor Flight highlights included a visit from Senator Joni Ernst and a special “mail call,” through which Werges and Siegele received around 50 letters from the sixth- and seventh-grade classes at Clayton Ridge.

Everywhere they went, people were kind and welcoming, shared Werges. He estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people greeted them at the Cedar Rapids Airport when they arrived home that night. Among the crowd were law enforcement, Knights of Columbus, Scouts, fellow veterans, and family members. A live band even played.

“I was shaking, seeing all those people,” Siegele said. “We never expected it.”

As Vietnam veterans, the two said it was touching to receive a welcome they didn’t get when they came home from the war.

Werges is a 50-year member of Clay-Gar American Legion Post 723, while Siegele has been part of the Legion for 40 years and is currently vice-commander of Marquette Post 305. The two encourage other veterans, be it from World War II, Korea or Vietnam, to go on the Honor Flight.

“A lot of my Army buddies saw the photos, and now they want to go,” Werges said.

If veterans are concerned about getting around on the trip, Siegele and Werges said not to worry: wheelchairs are provided and EMTs are available in case of health issues.

“People should really take the time to go or serve as an escort. I’ve got applications if someone wants one,” Siegele said. “I know it’s something I’ll never forget.”

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