WASHINGTON — Five members of the Olympic Peninsula’s Korean War Veterans Association reflected on their service at the war memorials, monuments and military museums in Washington, D.C., last month.
For Olympic Peninsula Chapter 310 President Gerald “Jerry” Rettela, the highlight came on the return flight to Seattle when he, Harold Beck, Ray DiVacky, Chuck Gagnon and Jack Hughes received handwritten letters from relatives and schoolchildren.
“They called it the mail call,” said Rettela, who received a letter from his granddaughter in the skies above North Dakota on Oct. 16.
“Unbeknownst to us, our relatives got to pour out their feelings about how much they appreciated us, how much they cared for us and how much it meant to them for us to be representatives of the free country.”
The three-day, complimentary trip to the nation’s capital was sponsored by Puget Sound Honor Flight, a nonprofit that works to honor the sacrifices of veterans.
Puget Sound Honor Flight solicited the letters from the veterans’ family members and students in schools from around the region.
There were 35 Korean War veterans and 15 World War II veterans from Western Washington on the Oct. 14-16 trip to Washington, D.C. The Olympic Peninsula chapter had the largest contingent of Korean War veterans on the trip.
The veterans visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Women in Military Service for America Memorial, presidential monuments and military branch museums.
“Basically, the highlights depend upon the individual,” said Rettela, who had not seen the National Mall prior to being selected for the Puget Sound Honor Flight.
“It had to be on an individual basis, because each monument was highlighted in their individual lives.”
For Rettela, the World War II memorial was poignant because of his connection to his wife’s uncle, a living World War II veteran.
DiVacky, Hughes and Rettela served in the U.S. Army. Beck served in the Army/Air Force and Gagnon was in the Navy, Rettela said.
Hughes, Gagnon and Rettela are from Port Angeles, DiVacky is from Joyce and Beck is from Sequim.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial, which is near the Lincoln Memorial, features a mural wall and 19 statues of platoon members on patrol.
The platoon is led by a point man holding a rifle in his right hand.
Rettela, who served in the Korean War as a staff sergeant, reflected on the importance of the point man in an infantry.
“He has to direct and make decisions for the rest of the platoon that is following him,” Rettela said.
“So that was significant in my analysis, just being able to be in front of that.”
At Arlington National Cemetery, Rettela visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the grave of Audie Murphy, a highly decorated World War II soldier-turned-actor and songwriter.
He also visited the grave of Army Maj. Gen. Keith Lincoln Ware, who received the Medal of Honor with Murphy and bestowed upon Rettela a commemorative medal for recovering ammunition during a monsoon to protect the troops in Korea.
Back at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Puget Sound Honor Flight veterans were treated to a hero’s welcome and a show featuring children dressed in military garb reflecting on World War II.
Each veteran was paired with an active military member and escorted through the airport to a reception. They were greeted by a Korean deputy consulate general.
“It was just so unique to see thousands of people standing and applauding as we walked by from the airplane,” Rettela said.
“All in all, it was a fantastic trip.”
For information on the Puget Sound Honor Flight, go to www.pugetsoundhonorflight.org.
For a 12-minute YouTube video of the Honor Flight’s October trip to Washington, D.C., go to www.tinyurl.com/PDN-HonorFlight.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].