In a thank you letter to grade school students and teachers, a New Ulm native who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II described his wartime service after he got letters of thanks in conjunction with his all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
On Oct, 9, former New Ulm residents Donald "Bud" Heidemann and Ernie Stoltenburg and their guardians visited the Nation's Capitol.
For a number of reasons, it was a day they'll not soon forget.
Photo by Fritz Busch
Ernie Stoltenburg holds a copy of the Southeasters Minnesota Honor Flight program.
The day began somewhat like their military days, nearly 70 years ago.
They reported to the Rochester, MN airport at 5 a.m.
Ninety minutes later, they flew to Washington, D.C, arriving at Reagan International Airport at 9:30 a.m.
Washington, D.C. firefighters saluted and shot water from fire hoses over their jet plane as they taxied to the gate, an honor only done for top dignitaries.
In the airport, Heidemann was greeted by a woman dressed as a USO (United Service Organization) greeter.
The group spent two hours at the World War II Memorial.
After lunch at the Women's Memorial, they toured the Iwo Jima Memorial, took a Washington, D.C. bus tour and toured the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials before returning to the airport.
Having never been to the Nation's Capitol before, Heidemann said it was a thrill to see all the monuments, especially the WWII Memorial built in 2004.
"Tourists from all over the world, service members, Boy Scouts, friends and relatives shook our hand and thanked us for our service," Heidemann added.
The moving experience caused him to say a prayer for military men and women serving the country in harm's way daily.
A Nicollet native, Heidemann joined the Navy at age 17 in 1942.
"Japan had just attacked Pearl Harbor and many of my friends and I got in line to serve," he added.
Heidemann served on the USS Arapaho, a fleet ocean tug that won four WWII battle stars for service in the Pacific Ocean.
He was standing on a 20 millimeter gun mount when the Arapaho was nearly hit by a Japanese bomb.
According to his granddaughter Sharon Grussendorf's college history paper, a homemade still on the ship made the sonar inoperable until they got caught late one night.
Heidemann proposed to his wife by letter from the South Pacific.
The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this year. They have four daughters, seven grandchildren, and eight grandchildren.
Stoltenberg, also a U.S. Navy member, lost a relative in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota, which pays $800 for each veteran to visit Washington, D.C., is supported entirely by donations from citizens, businesses and communities.
Applications are accepted on a first-come, first served basis.
For more information, call 1-888-283-4061.