This Sunday five area veterans will head to the nation’s capital as part of the Veterans Honor Flight of North Dakota and Minnesota.
Don Altringer, John Lang, Howard Lyons, Wallace Nygard and Leonard Palmer will join 85 veterans of World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The group will depart with 81 chaperones from Hector International Airport in Fargo to Washington, D.C.
“The Honor Flight makes me feel great,” Altringer said. “I think it's an honor and a privilege.”
As the veterans of the world wars and Korea pass on, he said it is important for the Honor Flight to continue as a way to ensure the veterans of the Vietnam War are not forgotten again as they were in 1975, he said.
The Honor Flight is able to take groups of veterans in police-escorted chartered buses on a fast- paced tour of Washington, D.C., monuments and memorials, he said. It would take a week to replicate the trip as a regular tourist, he said.
“So we don't have to worry about fighting traffic,” Altringer said.
Altringer grew up in Wimbledon and served in the U.S. Navy from 1955-63 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Antietam (CV-36). During that time he ran the ship’s post office at a time when it was the only communication with loved ones back home for the 2,300 sailors as well as flying mail to Navy posts around the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediteranian Sea from the ship.
“I didn't have to sweat the chow line,” Altringer said. “Back then the mail was pretty important to the guys. My parents didn’t even have a phone then.”
Altringer also played the trumpet as a youth and became the ship’s bugler. That carried forward to his service with the Jamestown Drum and Bugle Corps, and he has played taps for military funerals for the past 59 years.
After he returned to North Dakota in 1962, he and wife Arlene raised two sons and he ran his own farmers insurance agency and livestock credit company for 40 years, until selling it in 2000.
“I missed home pretty much all the time and I thought if I ever get out of here I will go back and never leave again,” Altringer siad. “I’ve been in Jamestown ever since.”
Nygard was born and raised in Edinburg, N.D., and served in the U.S. Army from 1952-53. After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he served in England and Germany as a tractor-scraper operator to help to fill in trenches and other war damage as part of his training.
“There was a mountain of rubble; I can remember that,” Nygard said. “The devastation was obvious.”
One memory Nygard said he would never forget was going through a former concentration camp. He expected to serve in Korea but the war was winding down, he said.
Nygard returned to Edinburg and farmed. He and wife Marjorie have one daughter in Jamestown and moved here in 2012 to be near her.
“I think the Honor Flight is pretty special,” Nygard said. “I have been there (Washington) years ago, but it was nothing like this will be.”
Lang, who owns the Two Rivers Inn motels in Jamestown, said he grew up in Cleveland, N.D., and served as a U.S. Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division from 1959-62.
“I wanted to go into a pretty good outfit and I read about the 101st Screaming Eagles in Bastogne and all of that,” Lang said.
Lang enlisted with a friend in a program that guaranteed they would stay together for a portion of their service. But that ended when Lang passed his airborne physical and his friend, who did not, was given a support job and shipped to Germany.
“He was fine with that,” Lang said.
Lang injured his foot on the fourth of the five qualifying jumps but still earned his airborne wings and served the rest of his tour at Fort Campbell, Ky. It was a rapid deployment unit and there were many drills, some of which they believed to be the real thing until the last minute, he said.
“I really thought we were going a couple of times,” he said. “It was pretty realistic.”
Gen. William Westmoreland was the division commander at the time before he went on to command all ground forces in Vietnam, he said.
“I met him after the war at an airport and we got a picture together,” Lang said.
Lang was allowed out of the service early to attend college. Even still, he earned his sergeant stripes in just over two years, he said.
“The Army certainly helped me get my education, but I think it taught me how to grow up,” Lang said. “It taught me that I better respect the chain of command or there are consequences, and that you need to be punctual and need to do what you are supposed to do.”
The service also taught him the meaning of the flag, patriotism and that being an American doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything, he said.
“You’ve got to pay your dues,” Lang said.
The Honor flight is an honor and a privilege, he said.
“I am sure there will be stories when you get a group like that together,” he said. “We all have a common bond and a common thread that runs through the whole thing regardless of the branch we were in.”
Lyons was raised in Louisiana and served in the Navy from 1955-58. He served aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Vammen (DE-644) as a fire control technician.
Most of the time was spent chasing submarines or being chased by submarines, he said. Most of the time was spent in the South China Sea and checking uninhabited islands, he said.
After the war Lyons went to college and worked as both a computer software and hardware engineer. He got the calling to the ministry and became an ordained minister with a doctorate as a Missouri Synod Lutheran and moved to Jamestown in the summer of 1993 where he served churches in Pettibone and Woodworth.
The Honor Flight is an experience for the people who both passed the ammunition and those who had to shoot it, he said. Some veterans have two Purple Hearts and some never saw action, he said.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Lyons said. “I really wasn't really looking into this, but my two stepdaughters encouraged me and one will be accompanying me as an escort.”