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May 13, 2018 10:20 PM

Engineering An Honor Flight

Multiple "Honor Flights" carrying Veterans from KELOLAND to Washington, D.C. are in the works for the next few years.

Hundreds of former service members who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam are on a waiting list to experience an all-expense paid trip to the nation's capital. 82 will get the chance to see the memorials built in their honor this week.

"I've only got one re-railer on this stuff over here..." Wayne Spars said.

Step down into Wayne Spars' basement and you'll be transported into a world of model trains.

"Believe it or not I made this," Spars said.

The 86-year-old who's lived in Sioux Falls since he was four is about as excited about these model railroad towns as he is of his service to his country.

"I'm very proud," Spars said.

A Korean War Veteran, Spars enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and landed in Korea at age 18 in August of 1950.

"I started out in the Pusan Perimeter and went all the way up in North Korea through Pyongyang, which is the capital of North Korea. I seen a lot of it," Spars said.

"Here's my IKE jacket we called them," Spars said

A member of the 25th Infantry Division, Spars was usually behind the front lines working with artillery. This is his old uniform which he usually keeps neatly folded in a special suitcase.

"I don't think I can fit into this anymore. I have grown up haven't I? Look at that," Spars said.

While he's light-hearted about the past, these days he has two distinctly different memories from the war. The first, the kindness of a local. It gets him emotional still almost 70 years later.

Spars: We were sitting out in the foxholes, very cold in the morning, and way off in the distance, why we seen some figures. We didn't know what they were. Turned out to be two old farmers that were bringing us something to eat. They were probably hungry themselves but they still were giving us that food.

Holsen: What did that mean to you?

Spars: I never forgot it.

On the flip side, war means conflict. Spars says about 20 percent of his battalion was injured or killed in Korea. He lost friends and also had a close encounter himself.

"When the Chinese first got into it, why the bullets went right alongside a couple of us guys that were standing there. We were shooting back but if we hit anything, we don't know. It was dark. I probably don't want to know," Spars said.

It's that kind of service that has many rushing to raise money to get Veterans on Honor Flights to the nation's capital.

While Spars is one of the few who gets to go on the Midwest Honor Flight this week. There are still more than 300 Veterans on a waiting list hoping to see the memorials built in their honor in Washington, D.C.

Aaron Van Beek, who just graduated from Dordt College this week, is the President and Director of Midwest Honor Flight.

"We have about 450 on a wait list. So it's just as soon as we can get the funds we're going to book a flight. We have September 25 booked for Mission 3," Van Beek said. 

Veterans going on Mission 2 Tuesday are from South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. The "Welcome Back" ceremony for the first mission last year was so big, it has now been moved to the Sioux Falls Arena.

"So we'll have a huge escort. Sioux Falls Police department is going to lead that up along with Fire Rescue. South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota State Patrols have confirmed," Van Beek said.

Along with a number of motorcycle clubs hoping to give Spars and his colleagues the recognition they deserve for their sacrifice.

"It is wonderful. I think it's very special of them to do that. Very special," Spars said.

A special day engineered just for KELOLAND Veterans.


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