WILLMAR -- Chet Curtis had only one thing to remember as he packed for an overnight trip to Washington, D.C.
"When I talked to my daughter about it, she told me not to forget to pack an extra handkerchief,'' said Curtis, 88, of Willmar.
He quickly added that he knows he will need it. Curtis is among 11 World War II veterans from Kandiyohi County on their way to tour the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Jon Lindstrand of Kandiyohi on Thursday drove the veterans from Willmar to Luverne. Today, he will lead them aboard a chartered jet at the Sioux Falls, S.D., airport for the trip to the nation's capital.
Ron Mackedanz of Willmar and fellow Patriot Guard members made certain the veterans left Willmar with a hero's send-off from the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building.
Honor Flight-Southwest had previously contacted Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Officer Trish Appeldorn to tell her there were 12 spots available on the flight, and asked if she could fill them with Kandiyohi County veterans. With help from Lindstrand, she had 11 eager veterans lined up for the flight within the two days' time she was allotted to get the job done. An anonymous donor came forward to make it possible for Lindstrand to accompany them as an assistant.
Curtis' good friend Gene Nelson, 84, of Willmar had no hesitation about saying "yes" to the trip when he answered Appeldorn's phone call. Nelson had served with the 11th Airborne, and had started his World War II service on Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. He was among the first of U.S. troops to reach the Japanese mainland.
Curtis was a platoon sergeant with the 70th Infantry and led a machine gun and mortars unit from France into Germany during 1944 and 1945, always on the front lines. His proudest memory is bringing back all of his men alive when caught in the Battle of the Bulge, but the Silver and Bronze stars he was awarded for his World War II service suggest there are many other such memories.
Curtis owned Team Electronics in Willmar and is a past commander of the Willmar Veterans of Foreign Wars post. That role made possible an earlier trip to Washington, D.C., and explains why he knows the value of the extra handkerchief.
Nelson returned from the war to attend Hamline University and made his career as an activities director at the Regional Treatment Center in Willmar. He said this will be his first trip east of Chicago.
He professes to be as excited about making his first trip on a jet as he is about seeing the sites in Washington. His trips to the then-hostile islands of the Pacific came aboard propeller-driven aircraft only.
But like his friend, Nelson might be looking for an extra handkerchief while in Washington. Among his goals is to see the name of a good friend he served with inscribed on the monument.
Curtis is among those who would suggest that the real heroes are those who never made the trip home.
"Now they are trying to call me a hero. I was just doing my duty like the rest of 'em,'' he said.