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Wellhaven veteran experiences once in a lifetime trip

Robert "Bob" McLawhorn spent Sept. 16, 2017, in Washington D.C. visiting various memorials. The one-day trip was organized by Freedom Honor Flight — giving veterans a chance to visit the memorials that stand in their honor at no cost. Photo courtesy of Wellhaven Senior Living

By Tiffany Olson, Wellhaven Senior Living administrator

Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, is a day that Robert "Bob" McLawhorn will never forget. The day may have begun and ended in the same place, but what happened in between was described by McLawhorn as both "humbling and memorable."

McLawhorn, who is a Navy and Air Force veteran, recently had the honor of participating in a one-day trip to Washington D.C. He was a military musician, who served overseas during the Korean War. The trip is available to veterans through a La Crosse-based organization called Freedom Honor Flight. The goal of the program is to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials that stand in their honor at no cost. To date, more than 1,800 veterans have participated in the program. McLawhorn's application for the program was completed by his friend and fellow American Legion member Jim Miller, of Post 121 in River Falls.

"At first, I didn't know what it was," McLawhorn explained, "But Jim explained it to me and then I decided to go on the trip."

On Sept. 15, McLawhorn travelled to La Crosse to meet up with a group of servicemen who were all taking the trip. He was set up with his own hotel room to spend the night. Early in the morning on Sept. 16, McLawhorn and the other servicemen boarded a plane and flew to Washington D.C.

Once there, the group travelled in a handicapped accessible coach bus. There were 100 veterans and each received a personal escort to make the trip as easy as possible. Each veteran was escorted by wheelchair, and pushed by their personal volunteer around the many sites. Visits included the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall, Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. McLawhorn's favorite monument was the Korean War Memorial, as he served during the Korean War.

"The ground is all green and there are only a few trees. The main thing is the soldiers were made out of materials that looks like ghosts, so it looks like the ghosts of those killed in Korea. That was very impressive, almost frightening. It was rather quiet there as people were honoring what it stood for," McLawhorn said.

At each stop, the group of veterans was greeted by different groups of people to show their appreciation.

"Every time we got off the bus, there were people to meet us. There were brass bands to play for us, people applauding us and all that good stuff. Some children would come up to hug you and say thank you. It was marvelous," McLawhorn added.

The day trip was filled with so many different activities that lunch and snacks were served on the bus and the group ate while driving to the next stop. Following all the sites, the group flew back to La Crosse and McLawhorn stayed the night, returning to Wellhaven on Sept. 17.

"I'll never forget it, let's put it that way. It was just fantastic, I enjoyed every minute," McLawhorn said, "It was humbling and memorable because the people treated us like we were kings or royalty or something."

McLawhorn is one of nine veterans who currently reside at Wellhaven Senior Living. While we remember the sacrifice our veterans have made throughout the entire year, we take the time to honor them in the spirit of Veterans Day. St. Croix Hospice will honor the veterans with a certificate and a pin or a flag at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10. They will also be recognized and honored during the noon meal in the dining room. A decorated cake will be served and the American Legion, dressed in uniform, will present a fruit basket to the veterans.

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