Calumet vets take part in Honor Flight

By RENEE?PRUSI

The Mining Journal,?Marquette

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Teagan Rank, age 2, probably didn’t realize it, but when he was playing with his fire truck during the Tuesday night meet and greet for the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight’s sixth mission, he was adding a fourth generation to the mix.

Teagan was there to send off his mother, Amanda, who was participating in the trip as a guardian to her grandfather – Teagan’s great-grandfather – Art Sakkinen of Calumet.

Tuesday night, the family enjoyed the camaraderie of the Honor Flight party. And Sakkinen enjoyed spending time with his good friend Vernon LeBlanc, also from Calumet, who made the journey to Washington, D.C. with the flight as well.

Both Sakkinen and LeBlanc are veterans of the Korean War. This was the first U.P. Honor Flight to include so many who served in that conflict.

“I volunteered. I joined the Army Airborne,” Sakkinen said. “I was 19. When I first heard about the war, the first thing I asked was ‘where the hell is Korea?’ I found out fast.”

From basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Sakkinen went to Korea, where he was stationed for one year, 1952.

“It was really hot in the summer,” Sakkinen said of Korea. “And really cold in the winter.”

After his time in the service, Sakkinen returned to his hometown, working in the copper mines. He later moved to Racine, Wisconsin, then returned to Calumet, where he now lives.

“I heard about Honor Flight, got the paperwork and here I am,” he said.

Wednesday, as the Honor Flight participants made their way around the nation’s capital, Sakkinen was impressed.

“This is all pretty amazing,” he said.

LeBlanc wound up with a surprise of his own when his daughter-in-law Barb drove up from Raleigh, North Carolina, to greet him at the World War II Memorial.

“This is great,” LeBlanc said as he hugged Barb.

The sixth mission of U.P. Honor Flight that included Sakkinen and LeBlanc left the Delta County Airport in Escanaba at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday carrying to Washington 78 veterans of World War II and the Korean War and a guardian for each.

When the flight touched back down to a raucous welcome from hundreds of well-wishers at about 9:10 p.m., the veterans had experienced a whirlwind of activity including visiting the World War II Memorial, along with many other landmarks.

Throughout the journey, they were met with cheers, flag-waving and handshakes from a wide range of people including school children from Oregon, brass from the Pentagon and people who just happened upon the contingent during their own sightseeing in Washington.

A group of young military members was among those greeting the U.P. Honor Flight at Reagan National Airport, saluting the veterans as each walked past. Along with them was Michael Frazier, who lost both his legs serving as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan.

“It’s an honor to welcome the flight,” Frazier said. “These are American heroes.”

During the busy day, the U.P. veterans were treated to a show by the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team, which put on a display of precision and discipline using 11-pound weapons.

“That was a terrific show,” said Rene Lippens of Gladstone after watching the performance, which took place at the Air Force Memorial. “Those young men were amazing.”

In its six missions to date, U.P. Honor Flight has taken nearly 500 veterans to Washington. Most have been World War II veterans, but the Mission VI flight included those who served during the Korean War.

The next Honor Flight is set for Sept. 4.