How you can honor Wisconsin’s veterans this Memorial Day — and year-round

After more than six decades, finally, a hero’s welcome.

The Dane County Airport was the scene of a jubilant homecoming for 86 World War II and 17 Korean War veterans on Saturday night.

My husband and I arrived at 9 p.m., not knowing what to expect. The veterans, many who are in their 90s, had arrived at the airport at 4:30 a.m. to board a flight to Washington, D.C. They spent the day touring the World War II, Korean War, and several other memorials established to honor their courage and sacrifice. They were due back at 9:15 p.m.

Several hundred well-wishers lined a cordoned-off walkway running the entire length of the ticket counters, waving flags, holding homemade signs, anxiously awaiting their first glimpse of the heroes. Many were heroes themselves, representing all branches of the U.S. military, including the man standing next to me, who served as a Green Beret in Vietnam.

While we waited, entertaining the crowd were a band, Bucky Badger, and “Rosie the Riveter,” who danced with some of the guys down the center aisle. Her hair wrapped in a red-polka-dotted bandana, Rosie is symbolic of the millions of women who worked in the factories during World War II. Volunteers sat at tables offering cookies and soft drinks.

A sign held by a volunteer told us the plane had touched down. Anticipation mounted. About 15 minutes later, a huge rush of cheers went through the crowd, and hundreds of heads craned to see the first of the veterans coming down the escalator. Wearing bright red shirts and hats, one by one they made their way down the aisle. Many were pushed in wheelchairs by loved ones or by volunteers. Others were able to walk.



Smartphones held high over the crowd tried to capture the magic of the moment. Wave after wave of spontaneous applause cascaded through the crowd. People held children on their shoulders for a look, and veterans, many looking amazed at their homecoming, shook hands with well-wishers along the way. Family members greeted their loved ones with hugs and photos. Smiles with the brilliance of Fourth of July fireworks lit up the room. There were a few tears. It was inspiring, joyful, and unforgettable, one of those rare moments when all you can do is thank God for the inherent goodness in people.

The veterans before us had displayed courage, honor, and valor during the horrific conflicts of World War II and Korea. They answered the call of their country and faced unimaginable hardships to protect their fellow citizens. The fact that hundreds of people filled this airport told me their sacrifice and their legacy has not been forgotten. I only wish every veteran could have that welcome when they come home.

This was the 15th Badger Honor Flight. What better way to say thank you to these courageous men and women than to support these trips? You can visit to find out how you can help. Or participate in Culver’s Day of Giving on May 20 when 10% of sales will go to local Honor Flight hubs in Wisconsin, Illinois, northern Indiana, and Michigan.

Linda Abbott is the president of Never Forget Legacies & Tributes, a Middleton firm that works with individuals and businesses to capture and preserve memories in life story and company history books.

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