Eastern Iowa Honor Flight provides Kalona veteran a ‘moving experience’

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 5/10/24


Paul Christen arrived at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids early on Wednesday, May 1, his son, Luke Christen, and brother, Glen Christen, by his side. While waiting in line to …

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Eastern Iowa Honor Flight provides Kalona veteran a ‘moving experience’



Paul Christen arrived at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids early on Wednesday, May 1, his son, Luke Christen, and brother, Glen Christen, by his side. While waiting in line to check in, he texted his older brother, David Christen, who would soon arrive with his own son, Shane Christen, so the five of them could board the 50th Eastern Iowa Honor Flight to Washington D.C.

Five members of one family on an Honor Flight is a remarkable thing.

The three brothers, originally from Elgin, are all Vietnam Conflict veterans, although none of them was dispatched to Vietnam itself. Paul, 80, of Kalona, was stationed at the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, the headquarters for Strategic Air Command (SAC) at that time. Glen, 78, of Marshalltown, also served in the Air Force and was deployed to Thailand. David, 81, of Wadena, served in the Army and was deployed to Korea.

All of them experienced tense periods during the war, and those experiences have stayed with them through their lives.

For Paul, the Honor Flight provided a new sense of peace.

Eligible veterans might wait up to two years to take an Honor Flight, a trip to Washington D.C. that provides visits to the WWII, Korean, and Vietnam memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery for a special wreath dedication. The Christens were aboard Eastern Iowa’s 50th Honor Flight on Wednesday, which brought 88 veterans to the nation’s capital.

“Fantastic,” was the word Paul used to sum up his experience on Friday, after getting some rest after the day-long event. Veterans and their guardians – Luke and Shane served as guardians for the three brothers – arrived at the airport at 5:45 a.m. and returned to Cedar Rapids at 9:20 p.m. to over 1,000 people gathered to welcome them home, shake their hands, and thank them for their service.

Pre-flight, all three brothers said that viewing the Vietnam Memorial was one of the things they were most looking forward to. Afterwards, Paul said the experience was “moving,” as they searched the names of over 58,000 service members and found three men they knew.

“Every one of those names represented a person. That name also forever changed the family and community around them,” he said. “It just kind of gets to you.”

By the time the group made it to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery at 4 p.m., more of the veterans were assisted by wheelchairs.

The wreath-laying ceremony was “solemn and precise,” Paul noted. “These guys do this every day all day,” he said, even in adverse weather conditions like the high winds and rain of hurricanes that make their way up the East Coast. “That’s how important that job is to them,” he said.

After visiting the Air Force Memorial, which also meant a lot to Paul, those taking the Honor Flight enjoyed a picnic-style dinner at the Marine Memorial and then boarded the plane for home.

While in flight, there was a Mail Call, and every veteran on board received a package of letters from friends, family, and neighbors, as well as some from organizations. While this was something Paul expected, he was surprised at how much it meant to him.

“It was just really neat,” he said. “It probably took 45 minutes to open them all and go through them.”

When the flight landed, there was a homecoming reception for the veterans at the airport, complete with military band. Over 1000 friends, family, and community members welcomed them back to Iowa.

The experience was a meaningful one for Paul, and presumably other veterans as well. When he was discharged from active service, just as the Vietnam conflict was getting hot, “the world didn’t seem to want to know about me, so I didn’t really say much,” he said. Vietnam veterans especially didn’t receive warm welcomes home. The reception at the end of the Honor Flight went a long way in correcting that.

Paul gained a new understanding that “people appreciate my service,” he said.

“Christen guys especially don’t show a lot of emotion, but it was a very moving experience,” Paul said of the day spent in the company of fellow veterans, two of his brothers, his son, and his nephew.

All veterans are encouraged to apply for an Honor Flight, even if they did not serve in combat. Eastern Iowa Honor Flight endeavors to take every veteran who applies.

Community members are encouraged to welcome veterans home. The next Eastern Iowa Honor Flight takes place Tuesday, May 28.

To learn more, visit eihonorflight.org.

Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, Paul Christen, Vietnam Veterans