KINGMAN – He’s seen the worst of what humans can do to each other.
Recently, 87-year-old Korean War veteran Louis Shannon was treated to the best.
Shannon and 27 other World War II, Korea and Vietnam War veterans were flown to Washington, D.C., last weekend for an emotional experience as guests of the Honor Flight Southern Nevada program.
Honor Flight is a national program started in 2005 created to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices.
Honor Flight Southern Nevada Chairman Belinda Morse got involved with the Southern Nevada program, started in 2013, and as of April 2017, more than 2,000 veterans have been escorted to the nation’s capital.
“My children’s great grandfather was a World War II veteran,” she said. “I was volunteering at the (Nevada State) Veterans Home in Boulder City and wanted to do something different. I got together with a couple other people and got one started here.”
There are two Honor Flights a year, each escorting about 30 World War, Korean and Vietnam War veterans to the nation’s capital. Veterans are chosen for the trip on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to World War II veterans and veterans with a terminal illness. The three-day trip allows the veterans and their guardians to spend the day at the World War II Memorial, and visiting other landmarks such as the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Wall, Lincoln Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and others as time permits.
Bob Leal’s Nov. 11 Daily Miner article about Shannon’s horrific war experiences brought exposure to the war vet. Charles Freteluco, Shannon’s friend of three years, said a mystery fan submitted an application to Honor Flight on Louis’ behalf.
Freteluco’s grandson, Alex Palma, is halfway through writing a book on Shannon’s wartime experiences. Freteluco is working with personal contacts to hopefully turn the story into a movie.
Honor Flight is supported solely through donations and run by volunteers. Veterans are accompanied by trained volunteer guardians, who assist them throughout the flights and tour. The tour included visits to seven memorials via charter bus, including the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Wall and Lincoln Memorial.
Shannon was one of 13 Korean War vets in the group, most of whom are 85 or older. It was Shannon’s first trip to Washington D.C.
“It was the most fantastic thing I ever saw in my life,” he said.
The group’s bus was treated to a police escort during their zig-zag through the capital. Shannon could tell by the stare of onlookers that they were curious of who was in the motorcade.
“You’d think it was the president,” he said.
They passed by the U.S. Capitol; however, no inside tours were given.
Shannon said not one Washington politician made an appearance, but Morse said some high-ranking military officers greeted them at a World War II memorial ceremony.
He was as ecstatic as a little boy when describing his trip experiences.
“It was so beautiful. We cried almost the whole time,” he said of the World War II memorial with its 56 granite pillars with the names of U.S. states and territories.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial with its 19 stainless steel life-sized and life-like statues of service members representing a patrol through the rough Korean terrain really hit close to home for Shannon.
“They looked so real,” he said. “One carried an M1 (rifle), just like I did.”
They braved the rain to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, a humbling and enlightening experience for Shannon.
“The (soldiers) were out there soaking wet, the rain pouring down on top of them,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing.”
Shannon was even more amazed at the group’s support. Hundreds of supporters welcomed the group’s arrival at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport and trip home in Las Vegas. Service members from all military branches, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and even Transportation Security Administration officers in dress uniforms were present to greet the men and give thanks.
“It was an amazing reception that we had,” said Cheryl Hassoldt, Shannon’s escort. “It’s really honorable to have that kind of support.”
“To be able to volunteer and take these people on the trip of a lifetime was so meaningful,” she said. “Louis is such and wonderful man and I was blessed to be paired up with him.”
Shannon will turn 88 on June 25, the exact day the Korean War started in 1950. He said when they arrived at the McCarran Airport terminal Sunday, the airport seemed like a ghost town until they got to the main concourse.
He told Hassoldt, “I don’t think there’s anybody here.” Once he saw the greeting party, his mood changed immediately.
“I’ve never seen so many people,” Shannon said. “Tears were running down my eyes the whole time.”
“Appreciation is what that was,” said Freteluco. “That’ll do it.”