Taylorsville veteran boards Honor Flight
Oct 31, 2016 09:25AM
By Tori LaRue
A picture of veteran Max Freestone with the Washington Monument. Freeman went on an Honor Flight to tour monuments in and around Washington, D.C. (Randy Freestone)
By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Taylorsville, Utah - Randy Freestone applied for an Honor Flight trip on behalf of his father, a Korean War veteran, in January, but he said the chances of landing a spot seemed bleak.
His father was in the hospital, ill with pneumonia, and the Honor Flight trips, which take veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifices and the sacrifices of their associates, had waiting list of more than 21,000 veterans. It was surprise to Randy Freestone and his father, Max Freestone, when they were accepted into the Sept. 13–15 Honor Flight.
“I told him we were accepted four months before the trip, and he just kept asking, ‘Is it time to go yet?’” Randy Freestone said of his father. “He was so excited.”
About 40 Utah veterans from World War II and the Korean War boarded a plane, each with a relative or friend, on Sept. 13. Randy and Max Freestone, both who reside in Taylorsville, were among this group. Both said the volunteers with Honor Flight made the ride special.
“On the plane going over, they said it was mail call, and I hadn’t heard that in years,” Max Freestone said. “So what they did is they passed out envelopes from each one of my kids and my grandkids, and it was really great.”
Besides reading letters from family and friends, the flight included a chat with the pilot, who was from the Navy, and games with the flight attendants and others on board. But perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of the trip happened just after the veterans and their companions were exiting the plane, walking through the airport.
“It’s hard to describe because it was very humbling,” Randy Freestone said. “People would be walking down the airport, and then they would just stop and clap to honor the veterans.”
That was just the beginning of the trip that Randy Freestone would come to call “life-changing.” The next two days were packed with services and sightseeing. Sen. Orrin Hatch greeted the veterans at their first stop—the National World War II Memorial before the group walked over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and viewed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Max Freestone said the Korean War Memorial was powerful because it brought back memories of his service. At 17 years old Max Freestone joined the navy in 1951 at Fort Douglas. After boot camp in San Diego, California, the teen was assigned to a hospital ship that traveled around Incheon, Korea, where he transported wounded soldiers, many to the morgue.
“It was quite the experience for an 18-year-old boy who was lost at sea away from home,” he said.
One of Max Freestone’s most vivid memories from the war was seeing Iwo Jima from the hospital boat while working around Guam, so he said he loved seeing the Marine Corps War Memorial that depicts the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.
“Seeing these memorials, the vets started to open up,” Randy Freestone said. “My dad never said a whole lot growing up about his service. I learned more in two days about his time in the war than in my whole life.”
Honor Flight participants went to the Arlington Cemetery where they saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb contains unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and is guarded year-round by sentinels who rotate out in an intricate ritual called the Changing of the Guard.
The Utah Honor Flight participants also participated in a ceremony at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, where Francis Scott Key first penned the poem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” which later became the country’s national anthem. The participants were given a flag and medals, which were shipped to their homes. Randy Freestone’s flag from Fort McHenry flies, even now, in his Taylorsville front yard.
At the conclusion of the trip, the Honor Flight group was honored in Salt Lake City in a ceremony that their families could attend.
“It is really hard to put in words— the feelings from this trip,” Randy Freestone said. “Words can’t describe it. That will be one of my most vivid memories with my dad.”
Unlike his son, Max Freestone said it was easy for him to sum up the trip.
“It was wonderful—a dream come true,” he said.