Local Korean War veteran spreads word about Honor Flight
BONDVILLE — Al Feldan recently experienced the Washington, D.C., military monuments for the first time and wants other veterans to experience it, too.
Feldan, who is 87 and a Korean War veteran living in Bondville, traveled to Washington as part of an Honor Flight, a program that takes veterans to experience Washington without any charge.
The program covers the flight, local transportation, meals and snacks and provides top-flight service along the way.
Feldan said he didn't have high expectations when he signed up to go, but what he found blew him away.
"It was like a VIP trip," Feldan said.
He said the only thing they would let him pay for was his transportation to Albany N.Y.
They paid for his hotel in Albany.
"That night a fine couple took me out for a fine dinner," Feldan said.
And, the next morning the couple drove him to Latham, N.Y., where they joined others for the trip to the airport, which was escorted by motorcycles, police and firetrucks.
At the airport they were greeted by a large crowd that had turned out to welcome them.
There was a band and a choir, military members in uniform, dignitaries, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and others to greet them.
People lined their path waving flags and holding signs, cheering them as they went through the airport for their flight.
"I never expected the turnout," Feldan said.
They flew to Baltimore, where firetrucks were spraying water as the plane taxied to the gate, where they were again met by cheering crowds and were escorted to Washington by police motorcycles and others clearing the way.
"We had a police escort for 40 miles," Feldan said. "Lights and sirens as cars had to pull off to the side."
The day was spent touring the military monuments and other top sights, including watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"They didn't leave out anything," Feldan said. "The people who organized it are top rate."
Feldan is accustomed to top-rate service.
He worked in the highest levels of international business and is accustomed to the workings of politics and business. At one time, he was chairman of the board of the International Retail Association.
But he was always so busy, despite being in Washington regularly for periods of time, he never went to see the monuments.
He also understands how important this trip is for a military veteran.
Feldan served late in the Korean War. He earned a degree from Ohio State University in 1953 with an
officer's commission through the ROTC.
"They put two gold bars on me and sent me to Korea as a first lieutenant," Feldan said.
He was in field artillery and the battery he was assigned to only had five guys survive the war, he said.
"Don't make me out to be a hero," Feldan said. "I was so lucky that most of the bad stuff was done and we were just watching."
Feldan, who served as a forward observer, arrived just south of the 38th Parallel overlooking Hill 495 just about the time they were signing the armistice.
"On the other side of the hill was the bad guys," Feldan said. "Most of the bad fighting had subsided."
To this day, American soldiers continue to keep watch there as their counterparts on the north side of the border do the same.
And the trip brought it all home for him.
"It was reassuring to know that people still remember that there was a Korean War," Feldan said. "The country still appreciates what we did."
He said that when Korean vets came home there weren't the parades for soldiers like World War II soldiers received."
"When we came back, there was no big parades or none of that," he said. "A lot of people didn't think it was a war."
Of course, that was nothing compared to what Vietnam Vets faced when they returned.
Feldan said his trip included three WWII vets, three Korean vets, a lot of Vietnam vets and a few from more recent wars and conflicts.
The trips are available on a first-come, first-served basis with WWII and terminally ill vets first, followed by Korean and then Vietnam veterans.
In this part of the country, the Honor Flights are run by a group called the Leatherstocking Honor Flight, which is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Its mission, according to its website is to "Honors American Veterans" for all their sacrifices, and offers the free tips as, "our way of saying to all our veterans one more tour with honor."
"We transport these heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials at no cost to them," according to the website.
The Leatherstocking Honor Flight is affiliated with the national Honor Flight Network.
The organization is run by volunteers and completely funded by donations.
Feldan said the planning and support was just exceptional by all the volunteers.
And he wants others to go experience what he did.
Feldan said most of the veterans on his trip had never been to see the memorials in Washington.
He wants to change that and he encouraged all veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam to apply for a trip to get on the list.
The trips can handle most mobility issues. His flight must have had 50 wheelchairs on it, and each veteran is accompanied by a guardian who looks out for the needs of the veteran throughout the trip. There is also a registered nurse available.
"This was pretty special," Feldan said. "It was beyond my expectations.
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Locally, Vietnam veteran Garry DuFour is a local contact for the Leatherstocking Honor Flight. He can be reached at 802-325-2925 with questions on the application process. More information about the program can be found at https://leatherstockinghonorflight.org/
Contact Darren Marcy at email@example.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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