22 family members greet Pelican Rapids World War II veteran after Honor Flight arrives in D.C.
WASHINGTON --- When World War II Army veteran Merle Grossman boarded the Honor Flight plane out of Fargo on Sunday, May 14, he wondered why none of his other children were there to see him off like the families of the other 90 veterans heading to Washington D.C.
But the Pelican Rapids, Minn., native quietly took his seat with daughter Evie Beste by his side and started chatting with his high school classmate, Wayne Plummer, a World War II Air Force veteran who was also on this year's WDAY Honor Flight.
Plummer, 94, and Grossman, 92, graduated from Pelican Rapids High School together and have remained friends since then. Grossman still lives in Pelican Rapids, while Plummer lives in West Fargo. As the flight left Fargo, 22 members of Grossman's family, spanning three generations and including Grossman's five other daughters and son, Glen, were arriving at Dulles International Airport in Washington to greet their father, grandfather and great grandfather. The Grossman family flew in from five states to surprise Grossman.
Grossman's daughters — Marie Mollner, Karen Feir, Pearl Schultz, Kathy Gross and Ruth Hetland — were worried their father would catch on to their surprise.
"He's pretty smart," Mollner said. "We thought he'd probably start asking questions."
Grossman wrote a book in 2013 from notes he compiled from his time in the service titled "Your Pal Merle: Letters from World War II." He still drives himself around in his beloved 1989 Chevrolet truck.
Although Merle didn't talk about it much while his children and grandchildren were growing up, his family was aware of his time in the service.
"Grandpa was always there for us," said granddaughter Vicki Klass, of Denver. "He was just always a presence in our lives. So we wanted to be here for him, and that was really important to us."
Besides Klass, granddaughters Stephanie Beste brought her 2-year-old son, Cadel, from Dillon, Colo.; Erica Hayashida came with Carson, 8; and Joann True brought her children Ellie, 26, Elijah, 22, Delaney, 8, (who is named for Merle's middle name), Rand, 10, and 20-month-old Finn.
"We really wanted to come and support him," said Erica Hayashida. "Everyone that could come, wanted to be here and show their support for him. We are really proud of him."
Others who were on the WDAY Honor Flight also found family and friends waiting for them in D.C. Family from across North Dakota, Minnesota and as far as Charlotte, N.C., went to D.C. to meet Joseph Herold, a U.S. Army veteran.
Herold, who lives in Dickinson, N.D., served in Korea from 1951 to 1953 as a tank operator. He was awarded the Purple Heart and earned the rank of corporal for his time in the service.
Twin brothers from Valley City, N.D., Lyle and Lowell Peterson, both U.S. Air Force veterans, were greeted by their niece Kylie Hensley and her husband, Don Hensley, and daughter Adrianne.
Kylie Hensley, who now lives in the D.C. area, accompanied her father Rolland Peterson on the 2015 WDAY Honor Flight shortly before he died in late 2016.
"The Honor Flight was one of the highlights of his life," she said.
She said her uncles drove every day to visit her and Rolland in the Fargo hospital while he was sick last year.
"It's so nice for these guys to be remembered," she said.
The 90 veterans from North Dakota and Minnesota flew to Washington, D.C., on Sunday and visited the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before visiting the Iwo Jima memorial and heading to an evening banquet where Fargo Police Chief David Todd joined the group and their families.
Throughout their visit, the Honor Flight members were routinely thanked for their service to their country.
"It's really nice, but I'm not used to this," one veteran said. On Monday, May 15, the group will visit the National Archives, and the World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials as their buses are accompanied by police escorts. They're scheduled to return to Fargo's Hector International Airport at 7:50 p.m. Monday.
The WDAY Honor Flight is sponsored through volunteer time and donations. For more information visit https://wdayhonorflight.areavoices.com.
This story has been updated to correct the age of Merle Grossman and the spelling of his son's name, Glen.