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Trip of a lifetime

Brothers H. Victor and Chester Anderson travel quite a bit together. Victor, being legally blind, says Chester is his eyes. Their most recent trip together is one neither will forget -- their trip to Washington, D.C., on the WDAY Honor Flight for World War II veterans.

"From beginning to end, it was managed beautifully," Victor, 87, said of the trip. "They (organizers) didn't miss a thing."

Five men from the area took part in the Honor Flight -- Chester, Lake Park; Victor, Frazee; Alwyn Martinson, Vergas, and Louis Mertz and Melvin Noeske, both of Osage.

With 184 in all -- 100 veterans and some to escort those in need -- the group flew to Washington, D.C., Thursday, May 3, to visit the memorial in their honor.

To be included in the Honor Flight, veterans were required to apply. Martinson said he saw it advertised on TV on a Thursday, and Friday morning he called his daughter, Mary Lou, who works for the Becker County Veterans Office, and she had an application ready for him to fill out.

Not wasting any time, Martinson was initially listed as the No. 3 man on the list. Getting in on the action just as quickly were the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, Chester and Victor.

Victor's daughter, Roxann Daggett, Frazee, heard about the trip and signed her dad and Chester up right away. Chester and his wife were in Texas for the winter, he said, and Daggett called to get his information to sign him up.

"We were the first two chosen. No procrastination there," he said of Daggett's quick action.

Once in D.C., the visitors got to see several other sites besides the World War II Memorial.

After flying into Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., the group partook in a reception for them, filled with politicians and appetizers. The four buses then charter the people past all the memorials and onto Springfield, Va., where they stayed in a Hilton and Marriot hotels.

"It was very well organized for being the first trip," Martinson said. "They really put a lot of thought into it. They treated us like heroes."

WDAY's Tracy Briggs was the organizer, and Martinson said everyone thought she did an outstanding job.

"I think every one of the veterans would have adopted her as a daughter. She was so nice," he said.

The following day, Friday, the men had three options of what they could see in D.C. -- other memorials, the Smithsonian or go out on their own. The Anderson brothers chose to the Lincoln Memorial and Korean Memorial. Martinson picked the Smithsonian.

Both brothers agree, besides the World War II Memorial, the laying of the wreath at Arlington Cemetery for the Unknown Soldier was the most moving part of the trip.

"It was very ... I had heard about it before. Kind of made you think," Chester, 81, said.

Martinson said the wreath laid while they were there was in honor of the North Dakota and Minnesota World War II veterans.

Saturday was the time the veterans visited the memorial in their honor. They spent "really a lot of time there," Chester said. "It was tremendous."

Martinson said the memorial was so large it was difficult to see every detail of it.

The memorial honors the 16 million soldiers who served and the more than 400,000 who died. In 1993, Congress approved the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish the World War II Memorial. Construction began in September 2001, and was dedicated May 29, 2004. It was funded almost completely through private donations.

Martinson said being on the trip and seeing the memorial brought back a lot of memories for him.

One of the memories all three of the men brought back with them, though, is that of a younger generation.

Chester said as he and Victor would walk along the monument, they would pause here and there to catch their breath, and both were amazed at how many people -- younger ones especially -- would come up to them and ask them all about their time in World War II. Each member of the Honor Flight wore nametags, so they were easy to identify.

"It was very... just moving," Chester said of the people coming up to them, shaking their hands.

"I've never had so many thank yous in my life," Victor said. "It's heartwarming."

Martinson agreed the sincerity shown by younger generations was astounding.

"It impressed me the most, high school kids would come up and say, 'may I shake your hand?' And then thank me for serving," he said.

Back in Fargo, there was a reception at the airport when the veterans returned.

"Half (of the men) started bawling," Chester said. "It was very moving."

Another group of 100 are scheduled to make the trip this fall.

"It's tremendous. It's nice," Chester said. "I'll never forget it."