Two Madison men plan for 2021 Honor Flight

MOTORCYCLISTS PREPARE for a Saturday afternoon poker run fund-raiser sponsored by Lake Chapter ABATE of South Dakota that collected money to help send a local veteran on an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., next spring. The poker run was the second such fund-raiser held by the local ABATE chapter, and the money is intended to help pay for Dick Ruger of Madison to visit the capital.

Two local men have signed up for a spring 2021 Honor Flight to visit veterans memorials and other landmarks in Washington, D.C., during a daylong trip to the nation's capital.

Dick Ruger, a Korean War-era veteran, and Aaron Verhey, both of Madison, plan to fly to Washington next year so that Ruger, 90, can visit national memorials created to honor the men and women who served in the United States military.

Ruger, 90, served in the U.S. Navy from 1948-53. His military service included being stationed on the USS Springfield, a light cruiser, as an electrician. He has a particular interest in visiting the U.S. Navy Memorial and Korean War while in Washington.

Ruger was a Navy sailor during the years that the Communists took control of mainland China and the Korean War was fought between Communist and United Nations military forces on that Asian peninsula.

After the Japanese surrender that ended World War II hostilities in the Pacific Theater, the USS Springfield was stationed in the Far East and visited ports in Japan, China and Korea. From early 1946 to early '47, the cruiser served in the Far East and along the West Coast of the U.S. In November 1947, the ship sailed to Japan again and cruised with the Seventh Fleet until mid-May. During this deployment, the Springfield visited places such as Sasebo, Yokosuka, Kure, Tsingtao, Shanghai and Okinawa and stopped at Hakodate and Otaru in Japan and Hong Kong, which were three new ports of call for the light cruiser.

The Springfield returned to the West Coast again on June 1, 1949, and 3 1/2 months later commenced with an inactivation overhaul. In January 1950, the Springfield joined the San Francisco Group of the Pacific Reserve Fleet.

The flight to the capital typically takes off from South Dakota at 5 a.m., and the participants don't return until late that night.

"It'll be a long day," Ruger said about the Honor Flight trip to the capital.

Ruger was born and raised in Coleridge, Neb., and has lived in Madison since 1973.

Verhey signed onto the trip to serve as Ruger's escort. A member of Lake Chapter ABATE of South Dakota, Verhey serves as a state representative for the motorcyclists advocacy organization. The ABATE chapter has held two poker run fund-raisers for Honor Flight participants to help pay for the expenses in transporting veterans to Washington.

According to Verhey, it costs about $733 to pay for sending one veteran on an Honor Flight. The Madison ABATE chapter raised about $800 during its 2019 poker run. As Ruger's guardian on the trip, Verhey, who'll take on the task for the first time, will pay his own expenses.

According to Verhey, the gratitude expressed by the veterans is worth the effort in sending them on the trips.

Honor Flights are conducted by nonprofit organizations dedicated to transporting as many U.S. military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war or wars in which they served at no cost.

Currently, the organizations are focused on bringing veterans of World War II to the National World War II Memorial and any veteran with a terminal illness to see the memorial of the war they fought in. Organizers plan to transition their programs to focus on veterans of the Korean, Vietnam and subsequent wars as the veterans of those wars grow older.

The origins of the Honor Flight program came from the efforts of Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, and Jeff Miller, a small business owner and son of a World War II veteran. Morse worked in a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Springfield, Ohio, where he saw many patients who were World War II veterans. After the National World War II Memorial in Washington was completed in 2004, he asked many of his veteran patients if they were interested in visiting the memorial, and most expressed an interest. However, Morse found that the majority of the individual veterans didn't follow through with traveling to Washington, D.C., for a visit.

Morse sought help with arranging plane flights to the capital for the veterans. The first Honor Flight took place in May 2005, when six small planes flew 12 veterans to Washington, D.C. Due to high participation, the program began using commercial flights. At the end of 2005, the program had transported 137 veterans to the memorial.

The schedule for the late September 2018 Midwest Honor Flight included visits to:

-- Arlington National Cemetery, which is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

-- Marine Corps War Memorial, designed from a photograph shot by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal during the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.

-- Air Force Memorial, which salutes the pioneers of flight.

-- Navy Memorial, which salutes the members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.

-- American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which includes a fountain and reflecting pool.

-- U.S. Capitol, which includes the statue of Lady Freedom on the building's east plaza.

-- The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, where group photos of the Honor Flight veterans are taken.

-- Washington Monument, which was completed in two phases from 1848-54 and 1876-84.

-- World War II Memorial, which stands at one end of The Reflecting Pool.

-- Korean War Memorial, which includes a United Nations Wall displaying the names of the 22 U.N. nations that supported South Korea.

-- Vietnam War Memorial, which is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 service members.

-- Lincoln Memorial, dedicated in 1922; it also memorializes the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural address.