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Howard Schmidgall honored for service

Howard Schmidgall of Hancock is a veteran of World War II. He served his country in the war from 1943-1946 and achieved the rank of sergeant. He served in the 82nd airborne division, A Company, 307th Engineering Battalion and was in the Glider Troops. BaAttles and campaigns in which he fought or participated included Central Europe, Normandy, Ardennes and Rhineland.

On April 17, Howard, along with approximately 165 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans were flown from St. Cloud airport to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. The veterans were sent off by the local honor guard. They landed at Dulles airport and upon exiting their flight, the veterans were greeted by more people, who were there to thank them for their service to their country.

The veterans boarded charter buses and departed the airport to begin their tour. The first stop was the WWII Memorial, followed by the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials. Following the War Guard at the Tomb of the Unkown Solder, the veterans were taken to the Iwo Jima Memorial. The tour ended with stops at the Air Force and Navy memorials. They then returned to the airport for their return flight to St. Cloud.

The Honor Flight was organized by “Freedom Flight, Inc.”, which is a POW-MIA Hot Air Balloon team from St. Cloud. Their organization has been honoring veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C. on organized tours. The trips are free to the veterans, who fill out applications on-line. “Freedom Flight” raises money for the honor flights via fundraisers and donations. The veterans are accompanied by guardians, who must also apply on-line and pay for the trip and a medical team so the veterans are all well cared for during the tour. Judy Johnson, of Hancock, Howard’s daughter, accompanied him on the flight as a guardian.

“For many of these guys, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and way past due” stated Johnson.  “While we were there, many people walked up to the veterans and shook their hands, thanking them for their service. At first they seemed a little shocked by it, but it was very touching to see, as there were all ages of people thanking them, from little children to older adults. It was an honor and a privilege for me to accompany these people, ahnd it was something I will never forget.”

When asked about the “Freedom Flight, Inc” tour, Schmidgall commented on the send-off and greeting at the airports, “I shook so many hands, I felt like I was running for office.”

Among other things which Schmidgall found very impressive and touching, happened while sitting on a bench at one of the memorials. “You wouldn’t believe the people who came and shook my hand and said ‘thank you for your service’. People I never saw before, kids, teenagers, and other grown people. That was really something.”