“It was really something. It really was a once in a lifetime trip,” said Veteran Don Schumacher while thinking about his Honor Flight experience, “It’s hard to explain. I had tears in my eyes when we landed in D.C.” Schumacher served in the United States Airforce from 1952 to 1973. Without knowing about it, his son and wife signed him up for the Freedom Honor Flight for the chance to visit Washington D.C. in honor of his service.
The Freedom Honor Flight is based out of La Crosse and has been actively setting up United States Veterans with free flights to Washington and the opportunity to visit the many memorials in honor of their service since 2008. Every Freedom Honor Flight receives no government funding and works with volunteers and donations to make every trip possible, including Schumacher’s.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Schumacher attended Ohio State University and graduated with a degree in agriculture and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Airforce from there. It was only three weeks after his graduation that he was sent on his first assignment. After serving for 21 years in both Korea and Vietnam he decided to settle down in Baldwin. His family sent an application for Honor Flight 23 on May 18, and Schumacher found out he was accepted.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it. When we got there, hundreds of people greeted us. I’ll never forget that.” Once the flight landed in D.C., Schumacher and the other veterans on Honor Flight 23 were able to visit the WWII, WWI, Lincoln and Airforce memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and other D.C. landmarks. For a veteran, just being in Washington D.C. is something that touches the heart. “I always liked that movie Forrest Gump,” said Schumacher, “and realizing that I was standing where they filmed that – boy, that got to me.”
After the tour, Honor Flight 23 departed back for La Crosse after offering the opportunity of a lifetime for veterans that might otherwise have never experienced it. Schumacher received one final treat after landing in La Crosse and exiting the plane. “The cockpit was open, and the pilot was sitting there, and I said, ‘hey, would you mind if I sick my head in here?’” The Honor Flight pilot then let Schumacher sit in the cockpit for the first time in years. “Oh, what a thrill that was! After looking at all those instruments I don’t think I could fly those again,” he laughed.
After the experience, Schumacher was given a photo album of his exact flight to remember the trip by. Though the trip was only one day, it was something that resonated with him enough to recommend it to any veterans who haven’t heard about it and wants to get the word out as much as possible. “Anybody that gets the chance should take it,” he said, “and I know there are guys around here who would be eligible. It was a fantastic trip – that’s all I can say.”