Four Gahanna veterans took a tour of honor in Washington, D.C., on May 17 to visit memorials dedicated to their service.
Thanks to Honor Flight Columbus, World War II veteran Paul Blischak and Korean War veterans Les Dean, Donald Mularski and Jack Robb took an all-expenses-paid, one-day trip to the nation's capital as a token of gratitude and respect for service to their country.
The WWII memorial was dedicated in May 2004, and the Korean War memorial was dedicated in July 1995.
The monuments are tributes to the men and women who died for freedom, according to the Honor Flight Columbus website. Many of the aging veterans have been unable to visit the memorial in a conventional way on their own because of lack of funds or travel obstacles.
Through volunteer guardians who pay their own way, Honor Flight Columbus overcomes many of the problems and escorts them on a trip of a lifetime.
The Gahanna men's guardians for the trip were Ken Bell and Ed Wheeler, of the Gahanna police department. Both are military veterans.
Bell called the men American heroes, adding that Blischak is one of very few WWII heroes still alive.
Blischak, 91, was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division, also known as the Custer Division, from 1942 to 1945.
His infantry received a presidential citation for an assault while it was in Italy.
Blischak said he would never forget the Honor Flight that was sponsored in part by students of Dublin's Grizzell Middle School.
"I was amazed by the way everything was handled," he said. "I didn't think it could be done that way. I feel like a hero."
He still was chuckling three days after the trip, thanks to two young girls who left their lipstick kisses on his cheek.
"I had a lot of jobs," he said regarding his time in the service. "I was like a runner. If they wanted something, I had to deliver. I was like an extra man. I was a messenger. I also went out as a guard with another man."
Blischak had visited Washington before, but the Honor Flight marked his first visit to the monuments.
He said he truly feels the meaning of Memorial Day.
"We were out there, and some didn't come back," Blischak said. "What we went through in the beginning was pretty tough. We went through a mine field. We knew some were laying out there with legs off. It gets to you."
Today, he said, a bad hip affects his mobility.
"The guardian (Ken Bell) who went with me was really good," Blischak said. "He took care of me. No one could do it better. I enjoyed it, and I'd do it again. I kind of enjoyed the whole thing, being with the veterans."
Dean recalls hugs and handshakes
Dean, 80, was a member of the 24th Army Artillery Division.
He went into the service when he was only 15 years old in 1949.
Dean was wounded in July 1950, but he returned to duty after his recovery.
"I went in late 1949 and got out in 1956," he said. "I had a break in service (and) then re-enlisted."
He said he never felt like a hero, but Honor Flight made him feel like one.
"There were a lot of hugs and a lot of handshakes," he said. "Kids came up and thanked me for my service. There were a lot of students from schools. It was kind of overwhelming when I got off the plane."
Dean said he has never been treated so well in his life.
"They treated us real good," he said. "The guardian went with you everywhere. I had never visited memorials, but I always wanted to go. I had heard about long lines. We had a police escort that got us right in. It surprised me how fast it went."
He said he waited a little over a year to take the Honor Flight.
"I understand why, as they want to take WWII vets (first)," he said. "I had heard of Honor Fight from WWII guys."
Treatment of veterans impresses Mularski
Mularski joined the Navy when he was 17 and served from 1953 to 1956.
The 78-year-old operated radios on destroyers.
As the veterans went through the airport terminal in Baltimore, Mularski said, they were greeted by about 50 representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
"We went to all the monuments, and people would come up and thank us for service," he said. "What was impressive at the Navy memorial was kids in seventh or eighth grade from Boca Raton, Fla."
Having worked for the Defense Supply Center Columbus, Mularski said, he had been to Washington.
"Going there this time with the people I served with was really great," he said. "It was a great experience. I've been there before, but I was really impressed."
As the veterans returned to Columbus, they were given packages with letters from sons, daughters and grandchildren.
"You look at the older fellows -- there were about 20 from WWII -- and you see the older fellows with tears in their eyes," he said. "It touched them. I never felt like a hero. I did what I was supposed to do. I look at those guys, and I feel like I was along for the ride. That's the way I look at it."
Robb takes Honor Flight in honor of fallen friend
Robb, 81, served as a Navy yeoman (clerk) for four years during the Korean War, including two years on an aircraft carrier in a captain's office.
He said the Honor Flight made him feel very appreciated.
"It was something I will never forget," he said. "I was overwhelmed with the reception we got everywhere we went. I'm no hero. I served four years in the Navy and came home alive. Some of my friends didn't."
Robb said he was treated like a hero, and he guesses everyone has a supporting role.
"I especially want to thank my guardian, Ed Wheeler," he said. "I have trouble walking. Ed wheeled me everywhere. He was so concerned that I enjoyed every minute of my trip, and I did."
Robb said he went on the trip in honor of his best friend, Devon Thornberry, who joined the Marines at the same time he joined the Navy.
"We joined in '51," Robb said. "He got killed in March of '52. I felt guilty about going on the flight. I wanted to go to honor him. He was a hero.
"It broke my heart I lost my best friend," he said. "He was 21 years old. They say we all gave some and some gave all. He gave all."