Area veteran Ed Jensen enjoys D.C. Honor Flight


  VISITING MEMORIALS – At the Freedom Honor Flight tour of the Washington, D.C. memorials last September were Jane Braaten and Ed Jensen, back, with former U.S. Senators Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Elizabeth Dole(R-N.C.) Submitted photo


Staff Writer

Ed Jensen served in the U.S. Army from 1948-1952 and has continued to stay active in veterans’ activities following his tour of duty.  

In 1948, Ed signed up for the U.S. Cavalry and after basic training at Fort Knox, KY he was sent to Augusta, GA where he received training in Radio Communication.  Ed was then sent to Tokyo, and later Korea.  He had originally enlisted for three years but ended up serving one additional year in Korea.

He has many memories of his military years and has attended a number of reunions of the 304th Signal Operations Battalion group with which he served. 

In 1992 he attended a reunion in Omaha, Nebraska; in 1994, Minneapolis; in 1996, Black Hills, South Dakota; in 1998, Wisconsin Dells; in 2000, Branson, Missouri (the Korea 50th Anniversary); in 2002, Nashville; in 2004, Las Vegas; in 2006, Branson; in 2008, Black Hills; in 2009, Nashville; in 2011, Branson; in 2012, St. Louis; and in 2013, Rochester, MN.

Ed had planned to attend the 2014 reunion in Branson – but instead was selected to participate in the Freedom Honor Flight 14.

On Friday, Sept. 19, Jensen and his daughter, Jane Braaten, were flown to Washington, D.C. to visit the great memorials in our nation’s capital.

Ed and Norrine Jensen and their family had visited Washington, D.C. many years ago when their children were young, but once he learned about the Freedom Honor Flight program he wanted to visit once more.

The Freedom Honor Flight program, which is based out of Lacrosse, WI, was founded in April of 2008.  The goal of the program is simple: to fly our veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the many great memorials that stand in their honor.

Veterans are encouraged to apply for the Washington, D.C. trip and are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to WWII veterans and veterans with terminal illness.  The trip takes place all in one day, which includes spending several hours at the World War II Memorial, as well as visiting other Washington, D.C. landmarks such as the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Wall, Lincoln Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and others at time permits.

(Ed reports that one day really does not provide adequate time for the veterans to visit all of the Memorials that are in Washington, D.C.)

All Veterans on the flight are.accompanied by trained volunteer guardians, who assist veterans for the day.  Veterans and volunteers who are interested in taking part in the Freedom Honor Flight program are encouraged to apply.

The Freedom Honor Flight  program is supported solely through donations and run by volunteers.  They have no paid staff members.  Their volunteers coordinate fundraising, communications with veterans and volunteers, training, medical supervision, travel to and from Washington, D.C. and all transportation, activities and meals to Washington, D.C.   Those individuals who travel along with them as chaperones are required to pay for their travel expenses.

The Freedom Honor Flight program plans to continue to organize flights as long as they have the financial support to do so.

The area Freedom Honor Flight program is an affiliate of the National Honor Flight Network, which began in 2005 in Dayton, Ohio.  There are now about 40 hub cities from which flights originate around the country.  The National Honor Flight Network provides the local Freedom Honor Flight program with technical and travel support and helps arrange activities in Washington, D. C.

In 2014 two flights to Washington, D.C. were organized, and it was hoped that they were able to serve all the World War II veterans who were on the waiting list in 2014.  Officials estimated that in the 25 counties the hub now serves, there are more than 5,000 World War II veterans who had not yet participated in an Honor Flight.  It is hoped that they will apply to take part in this special event this year.

Physicians and paramedics accompany each flight to help enable those with chronic health problems or disabilities to attend.  A guardian is also assigned to each veteran.

“On Friday, September 19, 2014, we drove to LaCrosse,” said Jensen, “so we could take part in the Freedom Honor Flight that was to leave the next day. Our wake-up call at the motel on Saturday morning was at 4 o'clock a.m., so we decided to go the day ahead.” 

They started their two-hour trip to LaCrosse on Friday afternoon and booked a room at one of the local hotels.

On Saturday morning, they arrived at the LaCrosse Colgan Air Hanger about 6:15, where a huge crowd had gathered, including military personnel of all ranks and branches of service.  Also in attendance were Boy and Girl Scout troops and local dignitaries, and family members who gave the honored veterans and their chaperones a send-off they will not soon be forgotten.

“It was a very emotional experience to see such enthusiasm for the World War II and Koren veterans,” they said.

The plane to Washington, D.C. was loaded and they left the airport at 7:00 a.m.  There were 160 passengers, of which 25 were World War II Veterans and 65 Korea War Veterans, along with their chaperones, two medical doctors and four paramedics.

The director of the Freedom Flight and 300 cheering military, civilians and small children greeted the plane as it arrived at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C, about 10 a.m.  Ed and Jane did not expect such an emotional welcome of cheers, chants and thank-you's as they entered the airport.

The veterans and their chaperones were loaded into four buses.  A captain had been assigned to each bus for the entire day and offered assistance to the needs of the veterans.  The Washington, D.C. police motorcycle squad greeted the veterans and escorted the group through the streets of D.C. - never needing to stop for a red stop light.  Ed and Jane said this escort made them feel special.

Their first stop was to visit the massive WWII Memorial, which had taken 4 years to build.  While they were at the Memorial, a large group photo was taken of their entourage.  At the entrance of the memorial, the veterans were greeted by retired Senators Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole.  Bob had been a senator for the State of Kansas from 1969 to 1996 and Elizabeth had been a Senator for the state of North Carolina from 2003 to 2008.

During the ceremony that morning,  Ed was selected to be one of four veterans chosen to present the colors and carry the Minnesota Flag around the memorial.  Jane said she was very proud to see her father participate in the service.

The group then spent the afternoon touring Arlington National Cemetery where they were able to see the rows of tombstones that went on for miles.  Every hour a Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was held.  Ed commented that the ceremony was conducted in complete silence.  The veterans were asked to stand, remove their hats, and no talking was permitted out of respect for the Unknown Soldier.

The next stops the group made were at the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Marine Corp Memorial.  The memorials were grouped together within walking distance for the veterans.  Since Ed was a Korean War veteran, he and Jane spent most of their time at that site and took many pictures.  After a brief rest, they walked to the Lincoln Memorial, where they took several more pictures before they walked on to the Vietnam War Memorial.  The Vietnam Memorial consists of a large dark wall where thousands of names of the fallen Vietnam soldiers names have been printed.

The last stop was at the Iwo Jima Memorial, where once again they had another group photo taken.  After leaving the Arlington National Cemetery the tour bus took them by the Pentagon and around the Air Force Memorial.  Due to time limits Ed reports that they were not able to get out of the bus, but were very pleased to still have been able to see it.  As the bus drove out the Pentagon exit, they could see the side of the Pentagon that had been hit in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

At 7:00 on Saturday night the visitors were back on a plane for their return flight.  Their plane arrived at LaCrosse airport at 9:30 that night.  Jane said their plane had to fly through a storm en route home and they experienced a very turbulent ride.  

Once they arrive back in LaCrosse, another huge crowd of people greeted them upon their arrival.  There were bands playing, crowds cheering, welcome-home banners were flying, and a water cannon salute from the LaCrosse Fire Department could be seen as they were taxiing down the runway to the airport hanger.  Many family members and friends were also on hand to welcome their honored veterans home.

Even though it was a long (over 17 hours), emotional day for them and the other veterans and their chaperones, Ed and Jane appreciated the recognition that Ed was finally able to receive after all these years.

Ed’s daughter Faith gave him a United States Army scrapbook, which now contains many special commendations Ed had received, along with pictures taken during his tour of duty, as well as other mementos and newspaper clippings.  Paging through the scrapbook brings back many special memories for Ed of his time served in the U.S. Army, and the many men he served with.

One of the pictures in the scrapbook was of Bob Hope.  Ed said he had been able to see Bob perform while he was serving in Seoul, Korea.

Included in this scrapbook is the Memorandum he received on December 3, 1948 from the Headquarters Division Artillery ED Armored Division, Fort Knox, Kentucky, which states: "Recruit Edwin G. Jensen, Battery D, 57th AAA AW Bn., 3rd Armored Division, Fort Knox, Kentucky. I note with pleasure that in your record firing with the M-1, .30 cal. rifle, you qualified as an Expert Rifleman.   Congratulations!  My best wishes go with you upon departure from the 57th Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons Battalion."

Ed also has a Camp Gordon, Georgia - Southeastern Signal School certificate which states: "Be it known that PVT.  Edwin G. Jensen - RA 17256356 - having been found qualified in the Radio Repair Course, at the Southeastern  Signal School, Untied States Army, is hereby awarded this certificate on the 19th of September, 1949."

The Minneapolis Star reported back on November 27, 1951 that Sgt. Edwin G. Jensen had arrived back in San Francisco, California aboard the Navy Transport Menard.

 Also included are several newspaper clippings regarding Ed's experiences on the baseball field while in the Army.  Ed played with the "Fly Boys" and here too Ed received special commendations.  One is from the Headquarters  - 9600 TSU-SIG C, Signal Training Regiment, Camp Gordon, Georgia, dated July, 1949: "Pvt. Edwin G. Jensen has been playing baseball with the Signal Training Regiment Baseball Team.  During the period of his participation in this activity he has shown a great degree of sportsmanship and ability to get on with his fellow players.  It is with great pleasure that I commend his participation both as in individual and as a member of the team, during which time the attitude as expressed by Pvt. Jensen, is in keeping the highest ideals and traditions of the service." It was signed by Joseph D. Riffel, 1st Lt. Sig C, Regm't Athletic Officer.

Jensen, who is now 86 years old, was honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States of America on the 21st of May, 1952 and he is very glad he was chosen to take part in the Freedom Honor Flight.

Ed also received a Commemorative Photo Album of his Freedom Honor Flight containing over 30 pages of photos taken while his group visited Washington, D.C.  Inside the front cover of the book it states: "Dear Freedom Honor Flight Veteran: Please accept this book as another thank you for your service.  Hundreds and hundreds of people - from your town and all over this Region - donated the money to make Freedom Honor Flight 14 possible, and this book is a small token of their thanks. It was our honor and privilege to have you on Freedom Honor Flight 14.  On behalf of all the volunteers and others who made it possible we hope you remember your day.  Forever - we will.  Sincerely, Freedom Honor Flight ...We Salute You!”

The book closes with: “To Our Heroes:  Freedom Honor Flight is proud to have honored your service to our nation by flying you to Washington, D.C. to visit your memorial. We hope you enjoyed your trip and we sincerely thank you for your service."

Proud veterans like Ed Jensen ensure that our nation remains "the land of the fFree, and the home of the brave" for generations to come.