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Vets travel on Honor Flight to D.C.
May 20, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Photos by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Several members of the Patriot Guard in Nebraska lead the procession down 1 st Avenue to the Elks Lodge in Scottsbluff.

Loren Zimmerman, a Vietnam veteran and retired attorney from Chadron, was being escorted by his son Randy as they stood in front Elks Lodge #1367 in Scottsbluff on a bright sunny May 12. Loren was selected as one of 12 veterans to travel from west Nebraska to Washington, D.C., on what is known as an Honor Flight.

He had just one word for the event: “Amazing.”

His son Randy, upon learning his father was selected as one of the dozen, said he “was proud to be his escort.”

Both father and son served in the Marine Corps. A member of the 3rd Marine Division’s combat engineers, Loren, who served a total of eight years as a Leatherneck, was stationed in Danang, Phu bai, Dong ha, and the demilitarized zone, while Randy served six-month tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom; his first tour was in Kuwait in 2003, and then in Al-Asad, Iraq, in 2006.

An unshakable bond exists between veterans, not unlike father and son, and one that was evident at the Elks Lodge. The dozen men were on their way to Denver International Airport to board a flight to Washington, D.C., this past weekend.

Chief organizer and member of the Patriot Guard in Nebraska, Steven Thomlison said, “I’m proud of each one of them. I’m awed by their dedication and sacrifice, and humbled to be in their presence.”

The Honor Flight veterans included Jim Stolldorf, Gene Anderson, Loren Zimmerman, Randy Zimmerman, Tom Schneider, Doug Kozal, Randolfph Honstein, LaVerne McCoy, Bruce Dobry, Ted Panas, Monte Orr, and Gene Sanchez.

Thomlison, who wears a black leather vest with a Patriot Guard patch on the right shoulder, has his own personal connection to the military. He said, “It’s very emotional. I had a brother in the Navy who put up a courageous fight against cancer,” a disease Thomlison said was linked to being exposed to Agent Orange during his brother’s four years on a Navy sub-tender, a role in which he with his unit routinely patrolled the Mekong Delta, and other waterways. Steve’s son, Fr. Steven Thomlison, also serves in the military as a Chaplain.

The veterans were escorted from Chadron through Alliance before stopping at the Elks Lodge in Scottsbluff for lunch. Pulled pork was on the menu. By early afternoon, they passed through Kimball and Fort Morgan, Colorado, to a Days Inn near Denver International Airport.

About 50 supporters holding thank-you signs and waving flags welcomed the procession at the junction of highways 14 and 71. Nearing Fort Morgan, the welcome grew to more firetrucks, city boom trucks, ambulances, the Colorado State Patrol, and Morgan County Sheriff’s deputies.

From there, they boarded a flight to Washington, D.C., where for two days the veterans visited several war memorials to honor their fallen brothers and sisters. They returned home Sunday.

Thanks to Ron’s Towing, Old Glory also hung over 1st Ave.

greeting the veterans, while law enforcement officers, and numerous Patriot Guard Riders from across the Panhandle slowly escorted the veterans down the middle of the road. Supporters of all ages stood with American flags on both sides of 1st Avenue between 16th and 20th Streets. Steve said the Elks made up to 150 American flags available to supporters. Other donors included Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Fastenal, and R&C Welding. Local entertainer Fred Marquez, dedicated several songs to the veterans including Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

According to Thomlison, this was the ninth Honor Flight by the Elks Lodge in Scottsbluff. There is another scheduled for June 9.

Thomlison said he joined the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization of volunteers, about nine years ago when Capt. Scott Neil Shimp’s Blackhawk went down during training in Jackson County, Alabama, in 2007. Shimp was a Bayard native, The Patriot Guard Riders were invited by the family to attend his funeral, which the organization refers to as missions. Shimp was buried in Bayard Cemetery in Veterans Circle.

Although, there have been no incidents of demonstrations at military honors funerals in Nebraska, Patriot members stand ready to guarantee a peaceful procession. They take their missions seriously, volunteering to stand between possible anti-war demonstrators and the families while they pay last respects.

Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt, 77, who has been a member of the Patriot Guard for several years, came out to show his support.

Riding his red Honda Shadow, he has escorted past Honor Flights as far as Kimball. Greenwalt, who served in the Nebraska Army National Guard from 1980 to 1988, worked in supply and food service, and a stint as a drill sergeant at the armory in Gering.

Ten of the select veterans fought in the Vietnam and Korean wars, and two from the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign (Iraq/Kuwait), served as escorts; while 10 Guardians also went along to serve as attachés, Thomlison said.

Galen Seip, and his wife Julia, members of the Elks, said they have been coming out to support the Honor Flight veterans for six years. Seip, the chairman of trustees, served four years in the Navy from 1970 to 1974 in south Texas, where the Navy trained pilots to get their planes on and off see-sawing aircraft carriers. Seip said he belonged to the Yellow Gear team or Gas Turbine Protectors.

Scottsbluff resident Marion Humphrey, 89, went on the Honor Flight in 2012, though it wasn’t his first trip. He and his wife were in the D.C. area when their son was stationed there. They rented an apartment in Burke, Virginia, while their son was at the Pentagon. During Humphrey’s own military career, he served for two years in the Army during the U.S. occupation of Germany after WWII ended. From April 1945 to December 1946, he worked at an engine rebuilding plant at Karlsfeld near Munich in the European Theatre of Operations. He saw and touched literally thousands of vehicles and other equipment that came through. “My job, though, was managing the instrument section, and the meticulous repair of binoculars, and gun sites,” he said. “All this equipment need to be processed and shipped out according to a bill of lading.”

According to the Veteran’s Administration, WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 492 a day, and estimates there about 855,000 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served in the 1940s war.

Randy Zimmerman served as a crew chief aboard a Marine Huey helicopter. Now, he works as a correctional officer in Fairfield, California, a job which took him four years to get, after his ordeals with suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Randy, who was accompanied by his wife Maria, and service dog Kiara, joined the group of other veterans who entered the Elks Lodge for lunch, turned to repeat the Marine motto before blending in with the other veterans. Standing a little taller, chest a little fuller, he smiled and proudly said, “Semper Fi!”

For photos of the Honor Flight procession, visit the Elks’ Facebook page.

WWII veteran Marion Humphrey, 89, shows his support for the 12 Honor Flight veterans who passed through on May 12.

Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt, a member of the Patriot Guard of Nebraska, rides in support of 12 veterans traveling to Washington, D.C. on May 12, aboard an Honor Flight sponsored by the Elks Lodge in Scottsbluff.
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