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Volunteers provide crucial support in UP Honor Flights for veterans

TAKING IN THE U.S. Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C. on Wednesday were, from right, Robert Werch, volunteer medic on Mission XVII of the U.P. Honor Flight; his father, Theodore Werch, a Menominee veteran on the flight; and Robert’s brother, Brian Werch, Theodore’s guardian. (Jordan Beck/Daily Press photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though the focus of Mission XVII of the U.P. Honor Flight was on its 85 participating veterans, these were far from the only people making the trip.

“We could not operate without our volunteers,” U.P. Honor Flight President Scott Knauf said.

Knauf said many volunteers are involved with U.P. Honor Flight throughout the year. A total of 88 volunteers were present on Mission XVII to help the day go as smoothly as possible.

Each veteran on the Honor Flight was accompanied by a guardian. For Ron Sykora, of Iron River, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, this role was filled by his grandson, Landon Gilpin.

“I thought it was really nice — it was my first time on the east side of the United States,” Gilpin said of the event.

Gilpin said he enjoyed getting to know the other veterans on Mission XVII.

“They’re all lighthearted and good people,” he said.

However, he noted some parts of the trip were more somber than others.

“When we went over to the Vietnam Wall and we were looking at all the names, it did get emotional for a minute there,” he said.

Volunteer medics also were present on the Honor Flight. One of these medics, Robert Werch, said he lives in southern Oregon.

Robert’s father, Theodore Werch of Menominee, was a veteran on the Honor Flight.

“(He) asked me to come along as a medical person,” Robert said.

Brian Werch, Robert’s brother, served as Theodore’s guardian on the flight.

According to Robert, his job Wednesday was to be present to take care of any medical issues that arose.

“Hopefully, I don’t have a role — just in case,” he said.

Robert said he enjoyed his time on the Honor Flight.

“I’m pretty impressed — it’s been organized very well,” he said.

The charter buses transporting veterans, their guardians and other volunteers around Washington during the Honor Flight were overseen by “bus captains.”

“That involves making sure everybody has a memorable time and making sure they have a safe time,” bus captain and U.P. Honor Flight board member Scott Lewellyn said.

Lewellyn also was involved with what may have been one of the day’s most memorable moments. While veterans on the Honor Flight were visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he performed taps on bugle to bring Mission XVII to an unofficial close.

“As many times as I’ve played taps over the years, doing it here is the most emotional … for me,” he said.

Lewellyn said he was glad to be able to play a role in making the U.P. Honor Flight a reality.

“It’s not about us. It’s about serving the guys who have served us,” he said.

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