Thanks to more than 500 donors from across Nebraska, 460 Korean War veterans from 200 communities departed Tuesday, March 25, on the final Korean War Honor Flight. Organized by volunteers, Bill and Evonne Williams, Operation Airlift consisted of three charter aircraft with a traveling party of 581, including volunteers and medical personnel.
According to National Honor Flight Network officials, this was the single largest Honor Flight group in its history, since it was established in 2005.
Three Custer County veterans were among those in attendance on the Operation Airlift. For the next three weeks we will profile each of those veterans. Though they all consider themselves anything but heroes, their selfless service to their country has made them â€śHometown Heroesâ€ť in our eyes.
Cal Dittmar: From the farm to the front line
OCONTO - - Cal Dittmar is a country boy. He still lives on the farm near Oconto where he was born and raised.
After graduating from Oconto High School in 1948, Cal stayed on the farm for a few years helping his dad. He liked that way of life.
Then in 1952, his way of life was turned completely upside down, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Cal went to basic training at Camp Roberts in California, and in June 1953, he shipped off to Korea.
â€śWhen we hit Korea we were asked if anyone had 105 training, and I raised my hand. I donâ€™t know if I should tell you that,â€ť Cal smiles, admitting he didnâ€™t really have the training at the time. â€śI just figured it was better than being a rifleman.â€ť
He explains the 105 is a large recon weapon mounted in the back of a jeep. Cal says he was familiar with a lot of different types of weapons, so learning to operate the 105 wasnâ€™t hard.
â€śRunning that 105 was a lot better than a rifle in the trench. I never regretted raising my hand that day.â€ť
Cal was in Korea 16 months, returning home in October 1954. However, he was there long enough to make some life-long friends. Though he doesnâ€™t seem totally comfortable talking about his experience on the battle field, he gets excited when he talks about his old buddies.
The trip gave the 460 veterans the opportunity to not only visit the memorial erected in their honor, but to also reconnect with the only other people who can fully relate to their experience - other veterans who lived it.
â€śI wouldnâ€™t take a million dollars for what I went through,â€ť says Cal, â€śbut I wouldnâ€™t give a dollar to go through it again.â€ť
For full story see the April 3 Custer County Chief.