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Mr. Schultz goes to Washington: Honor Flight brings emotional moments

Lou Schultz, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, shares about his experiences on last weekend’s Veterans Honor Flight of ND/MN trip to Washington, D.C. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)1 / 2
Schultz, right, and his Honor Flight roommate, Dr. Wayne Sanstead, pose with a Korean tourist during their visit to the national Korean War Veterans Memorial. After posing for similar shots with several Korean-speaking women, Schultz and Sanstead were told the women believed they are free today because of men like them. (Photo courtesy of Lou Schultz)2 / 2

Lou Schultz of Park Rapids, author of the Enterprise's "Basic Cents" business column, returned home Monday from a two-day Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. with memories of a moving experience.

"This was surprising to me," he said. "It was not the things we saw; it was the people we experienced that stand out. The people were wonderful."

Two years after expressing an interest in going on an honor flight and filling out a form at the Hubbard County Veterans Service office, Schultz received a letter on March 8 telling him he had been selected for last weekend's flight to the nation's capital.

"This came out of the blue," he said.

After spending Saturday night in Fargo, Schultz joined 166 passengers, including 85 veterans plus support personnel, on a 6:30 a.m. flight to Washington.

For the veterans, there was no cost for the two-day tour including airfare, a coach tour, meals and a night in a hotel. Each veteran was allowed the option to have a support person come along for $1,100. Also on the trip were volunteers and medical personnel.

"The volunteers were key," said Schultz. "They were wonderful in taking care of us and making sure we were all right. I can walk OK, but I'll bet volunteers asked me six or eight times a day if I would like a ride in a wheelchair."

He also recalled being offered several bottles of water each day, as the helpers recognized the importance of staying hydrated.

"They just watch out for you," Schultz said. "I would come to steps, somebody would grab my arm and help me."

It all came about through Veterans Honor Flight of ND/MN, a Fargo-based organization that raises funds and volunteers for similar flights. This was the team's fifth flight overall. Schultz said a volunteer on the flight told him they are planning a golf charity event to raise funds for another flight this fall.

The Fargo team is just one of more than 140 Veterans Honor Flight hubs in 47 states. According to the organization's website, it has flown nearly 200,000 servicemen and servicewomen to Washington, D.C. since 2005.

A feeling of honor pervaded the trip from start to finish, Schultz said.

"When we got to Washington, D.C. — the nation's capital, for crying out loud! — the gate area was full of people cheering and applauding when we got off the plane," he said. "It was a very emotional moment, and it lasted until we got out of the terminal."

The veterans received a similar reception at the middle and end of their trip.

"Everywhere we went, people were shaking our hands and applauding," he said. "It was the same thing at the airport in Fargo when we got back: There were people cheering and waving, a band playing service songs."

Being cheered like a hero was "an amazing feeling," he said. But it didn't stop there.

During a visit to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Schultz and his hotel roommate, Dr. Wayne Sanstead (a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and longtime head of the state's public education system) sat down on a bench to rest. A member of a Korean tour group approached and, through pantomime, asked to have her picture taken with them.

"We nodded, and she scooted around behind us, and they took her picture," said Schultz. "She left, and another one scooted around behind us. There must have been six or eight who had their pictures taken with us."

None of the Korean tourists spoke English, but afterward a bystander told Schultz and Sanstead, "You know why they did that? They think it's because of you that they're free today."

Looking back on the trip, Schultz said, "There were a lot of emotional moments like that. That's why I say it was the people, not the things."

The tour group's four coach buses had a motorcycle escort, with police cars to stop traffic at intersections. The veterans were treated to a "spectacular" banquet with USO-style entertainment. "That brought back memories," said Schultz, recalling acts impersonating the likes of the Andrews Sisters and Bob Hope.

Schultz served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1952 to 1954, during the Korean War period. He continued in the reserves during college, until 1958.

When he joined up, he said, "I was a raw farm kid from Nebraska. I knew nothing about the outside world."

Thanks to his test scores, he qualified for electronics training at various schools. At the last school, he and a bunkmate, also from Nebraska, agreed to go to university together on the G.I. Bill and get degrees in electrical engineering. "I didn't know electrical engineering," said Schultz, "but I knew I didn't want to go back to the farm."

Schultz went into the computer business and later started his own management consultant company, earning an MBA from Pepperdine University along the way. He and Kay, his wife of 56 years, raised a son and a daughter. He continues to participate in the local Marine Corps League, which performs gun salutes at approximately 30 to 40 military funerals each year.

"It's an honor to do that," he said. "I'm very proud of that."

Although he never served overseas, he said, "A big share of my platoon in boot camp did not come back from Korea."

Unsurprisingly, Schultz said the Korean War memorial was the stop on the tour that interested him most.

The tour group also visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam, World War II, Air Force and Navy memorials as well as the National Archives, the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum and the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

Veterans on the tour also received some Honor Flight swag, such as a jacket, a cap, a T-shirt, a replica K-rations box and an Army backpack that the former Marine plans to give away.

"I was the only Marine on the flight," Schultz explained. "I kind of reacted to see the Army backpack. They said, 'Well, it was donated.'"

He also hinted at a surprise that veterans receive on each Honor Flight.

"I'm not going to tell you" what it was, he said. "I don't want to ruin it for everybody else."

He also refused to give up the names of the veterans he plans to nominate for a future Honor Flight.

"I have a couple people in mind, and I have put their names in the hat, but I'm not talking to them about it," said Schultz.

At least one other local veteran, Jim Vogt of Menahga, was also on Schultz's honor flight.

"The people made the trip," Schultz said. "The ones who took care of us, the people we met along the way."