Jamie Taylor/River News
Korean War veteran Tom Rudolph was surprised Friday morning at the Pelican Elementary School Veterans Day celebration with a ticket to fly to Washington D.C. in April on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. Pelican students and staff raised money to donate to the program by buying popcorn, and two people donated $500 each to pay for Rudolph and two other veterans to take part in the program for a combined donation of $1,500. World War II veteran Hal Berndt, who flew on an earlier Honor Flight, told the gathered children and adults about his experience and how much it meant to him.
11/15/2016 7:28:00 AM Pelican students, staff surprise Korea vet on Veterans Day
Popcorn sales result in Honor Flight ride for Rudolph
On a day set aside to honor those who have answered the call to defend this country, one veteran received an unexpected honor.
Korean War veteran Tom Rudolph was surprised Friday morning at the Pelican Elementary School Veterans Day celebration with a ticket to fly to Washington D.C. in April on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
The ceremony was held in the school gym in front of a "Wall of Honor" that lists the names of all Pelican staff and family members of students who have served in the armed forces.
The veterans in attendance were then presented with handmade oversize poppies.
"The poppy was the first flower that bloomed on the battlefields during World War I," school principal Martha Knudtson said. "Their bright red color symbolizes the blood shed during the battles. But it also symbolizes the hope of new life."
Pelican students and staff raised money to donate to the program by buying popcorn, and two separate donations of $500 each will go to pay for Rudolph and two other veterans to take part in the program for a combined donation of $1,500.
Teaching assistant Nancy Funk explained how she was inspired to lead the fundraiser for the Honor Flight after watching media coverage of the return of participants.
"School started and Veterans Day was coming up and I asked Mrs. Knudtson 'wouldn't it be awesome if we could have a little fundraiser and take in maybe a couple hundred dollars, and throw it in the kitty for the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, and a veteran would get his trip paid for,'" Funk said. "Well, that little fundraiser, in a week, we have raised $500 from the staff, the students and other donations. We had one staff member donate $500, And Mr. (Tony) Klein and I matched it with $500 this morning."
Mike Thompson, one of the co-founders of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, told the children that when he and Jim Campbell got the idea for the program seven years ago, the youngest World War II veteran in the area was 82 years old.
"So we knew we had to get something going pretty quickly," he said.
The goal was to raise $75,000 to fly 100 World War II veterans to Washington D.C. in five months.
"And it is because of groups like yours, this school, that has raised money to fly three veterans to Washington D.C. on a free trip of a lifetime, that we have been able to fly today, 26 missions with 2,388 veterans on that free trip of a lifetime," Thompson said.
He said while the group began with World War II veterans - 1,003 World War II veterans have made the trip - they have expanded to include 1,079 Korean War veterans and 356 Vietnam veterans.
"And we are well over 900 veterans of all eras on our waiting list ready to fly," he added. "So your contribution to our efforts is very important, and we thank you very, very much."
World War II veteran Hal Berndt, who flew on a previous Honor Flight, told the gathered children and adults about his experience and how much it meant to him.
He told the audience that as his group was approaching the World War II Memorial, there were over 300 children lining the sidewalk holding drawings "to greet us and thank us and to wish us well."
He also said he didn't expect to get any letters during the "mail call" that is a tradition on the flight home.
"They handed me a large brown envelope full of mail," Berndt said. "And most of the mail was letters from students like you."
He said he and the other veterans on the flight appreciated those letters, which included drawings of ships, planes and words of thanks and encouragement, very much.
He said he was also moved by the large crowd that awaited the flight's return to Mosinee.
"The crowd filled the building and was overflowing into the parking lot," Berndt said. "People wanted to shake hands with the veterans and thank them. People wanted to hug the veterans, and I enjoyed that."
After Berndt spoke, Funk and fellow teaching assistant Renee Miszewki made the surprise presentation to Rudolph.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
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