'It was unbelievable': Honor Flight a memorable experience for local Korean War vet and family

Of all the memorable and emotional moments that Clarence Merle "Andy" Anderson had during his recent Veterans Honor Flight tour, he says the best was when he spotted his little granddaughter at the airport upon his return. He watched her fearless...

Andy Anderson and his wife, Bertha, at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. during an Honor Flight earlier this week. Submitted photo

Of all the memorable and emotional moments that Clarence Merle "Andy" Anderson had during his recent Veterans Honor Flight tour, he says the best was when he spotted his little granddaughter at the airport upon his return. He watched her fearlessly fight her way through a large, cheering crowd of supporters, eager to be the first to welcome her grandpa home.

"There were people about a block long, three lines deep, and my granddaughter, by the name of Sawyer-she's nine years old-got through that crowd and got to me to put a little hug and kiss on me," Anderson recalled with a big smile. "She's gotta be first, you know. She wasn't gonna let them hold her up, boy. She's my hero."

She must get it from her grandpa. He's a hero himself.

A Korean War veteran, Anderson spent several years in the military in the late 1940s and early '50s, serving in both the U.S. Air Force and the Army National Guard. As a Forward Observer in the war, he repeatedly risked his life for his comrades and country.

His role in battle was a notoriously dangerous one: the average lifespan of a Forward Observer on the front lines at that time was just six seconds; Anderson lasted nine months and lived to tell about it. Forward Observers were the eyes of the artillery, directing rounds onto their targets. The role was greatly significant in the Korean War, which is often called the "Artillery War" because so many rounds were fired (more than in all of WWII).


To stay undetected in enemy territory, Anderson would parachute into new locations under the protection of night. And on the battlefield, he took cover in craters created by the last round of fire, figuring the same spot wouldn't be targeted twice in a row.

The tactics worked for him. He survived the war. Even after endangering himself over and over again to spare his fellow servicemen the same danger. Even after personally firing more than 200,000 rounds of artillery. And even after part of his left elbow was blown apart in battle and he insisted on staying in the field until the fight was over.

Anderson didn't shy away from peril, but "the Lord was with me all the time," he said, and he stayed alive. He returned home with awards for meritorious service and a letter of commendation from his Commanding Captain, who praised Anderson for being an "inspiration to the entire Battery" because of his initiative, superior performance and ambition.

Not bad for a lad who only joined the service to get away from a girl: "My mother tried to marry me off... and I didn't want no marriage," Anderson explained. "So I just went out and joined the Air Force and that took care of it."

Anderson's heroic deeds continued after his return home. In 1973, 17 years after being honorably discharged from the service, Anderson received another letter of commendation, this time from the Minnesota Highway Patrol, for his quick thinking and vital assistance at the scene of a school bus accident in Pelican Rapids.

A longtime resident of Detroit Lakes, Anderson had a lengthy and successful career in the trucking industry, hauling everything from cattle to ice cream to a nuclear reactor. In the early '70s, he lobbied for truckers' rights as the head of the newly-formed Midwest Truckers Association, even meeting with President Richard Nixon at one point.

Over his 60-plus years in the business, Anderson drove more than 8 million miles across 49 states and seven provinces, surviving close brushes with three hurricanes and seven tornadoes.

At all those times, as in the war, "you had the good Lord watching over you," Anderson's wife, Bertha, said to him.


The couple visited the Tribune on Tuesday to talk about Anderson's life and time in the military, as well as their experience on the Honor Flight tour earlier this week.

Wearing denim overalls over a "Freedom Is Not Free" t-shirt, a "Korean Veteran and Proud Of It" cap on his head, Anderson recalled his most emotional moment in Washington, D.C.-seeing the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

"It was kind of saddening," he said of the experience. "Because I lost men."

Though he had been to Washington, D.C. before, Anderson had never visited the monuments and sites that were a part of this trip. Organized by the Veterans Honor Flight of North Dakota/Minnesota, the two-day tour was a whirlwind of activities designed to provide veterans with honor and closure.

Early Sunday morning, Anderson and more than 80 other Red River Valley area veterans flew out to the capital, where they visited the Korean War memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Archives Building and more. They were treated to a banquet in their honor, and each was surprised with a stack of letters written by their proud friends and family.

Each veteran traveled with an able-bodied escort of their choice; in Anderson's case, it was his son-in-law, Tom Lormis. Other family members had the option of traveling separately to meet up with the veterans in Washington. Bertha chose to do this, traveling with the couple's daughters, Kathy Lormis and Debra Anderson. Their son, Dennis, and two of their grandchildren, also met them at the capital.

"We had a good turnout out there," said Bertha. "There were a lot of emotional moments."

The most emotional, though, was probably that hero's welcome back home. When the veterans landed at Hector International Airport in Fargo on Monday evening, Anderson was taken aback by the huge showing of love and support-and not only from his enthusiastic granddaughter, Sawyer. Hundreds of people were there to cheer on the veterans, clapping, holding signs, waving flags, shaking hands and sharing hugs.


"We kind of stole the show out there at Hector airfield," said Anderson of the Honor Flight group. "Everybody was wanting to shake our hands. It was unbelievable."

Among the crowd were even more members of the Anderson family, most of whom live in the Fargo area. Seeing the family all there together, proudly supporting him, was a happy surprise for Anderson.

"He didn't know that most of the family was going to be there," Bertha said. "And he got emotional. I got tears in my eyes and got kind of broke up-and he did, too."

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