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Donaldson Woods, 83, had tears in his eyes because of the fanfare he and 99 other veterans received when they stepped off the first Blue Ridge Honor Flight for Korean War veterans Sept. 24 at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

“It was kind of emotional, and all of it made me teary,” said Woods, an Army veteran who went with his childhood friend and Korean War veteran, retired Marine Don Jackson.  “There was no fanfare when we came home from Korea. Everyone wanted to forget the war and get back to a normal life.”

A band at the airport played while the veterans streamed through a receiving line of saluting servicemen and women paying tribute. People shook hands with each veteran and thanked them for their service.

The flight was Blue Ridge Honor Guard's 500th trip to Washington but its first to carry Korean War veterans. Taking care of the elderly veterans on the same-day flight to D.C. and back to Asheville were about 100 caregivers, doctors and EMS personnel. American Airlines provided the flight for free, and the pilots donated their time.

Donaldson, a retired Presbyterian missionary who like Jackson lives in Black Mountain, remembers the winters he spent in Korea (1953-54) as intensely, penetratingly cold.

“I kept piling on the blankets, plus I had a sleeping bag and my boots on,” he said.  “There was an empty bunk belonging to a soldier who was standing guard and I got his blanket. And I was still freezing. The next morning I noticed a tag on the top blanket that said ‘Made by Beacon Manufacturing.’  It was a nice touch of home for an already homesick soldier.

"We had a small stove in our tent that used coal.  Sometimes we had fuel and sometimes we didn’t.”

Donaldson was impressed with how well organized the Korean War Honor Flight was. He was impressed by the memorials he visited in Washington. The veterans visited the World War II and Vietnam War memorials, as well as the Air Force Memorial. Donaldson said the Iwo Jima Memorial was moving.

But especially moving was the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Donaldson said.

The memorial is a platoon of stainless steel statues sculpted by Frank Gaylord of Barre, Vermont and cast by Tallix Foundries in Beacon, New York.  Representing an ethnic cross section of America, the seven-feet-tall sculptures are of 19 service members - 14 Army, three Marine, one Navy and one Air Force, all out on patrol. The statues are frozen in mid motion in patches of juniper; the troops are dressed in ponchos that appear to blow in the cold winds of Korea.

"Every characteristic in their faces brought back memories and sometimes tears," Donaldson said. "It was exactly like life was when I was there. It was very moving."

So was "mail call" on the honor flight to D.C. Each veteran received a packet of letters containing notes, drawings and other expressions of gratitude.

“I made sure Don’s packet had plenty of cards from grandchildren, children and friends thanking him for his service,” his wife Charlene Woods said.  “Spouses were not allowed to go on the honor flight, but I didn’t mind.  I wanted my husband to enjoy the honor.”

Each veteran on the flight received a medal from the South Korean government. The medals were made from barbwire used along the Demilitarized Zone, the so-called DMZ that separates the Republic of Korea from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea.

Donaldson described the trip as “the most memorable trip that I’ve ever made in my entire life.”

For more about Blue Ridge Honor Flight, visit BlueRidgeHonorFlight.com or call (866) 224-4094.

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