It was a flight to remember for two area veterans who recently traveled to Washington, D.C.
Robert Gilbert, 85, of New London, and Floyd Roloff, 83, of Royalton, were part of the Sept. 5 Old Glory Honor Flight.
“I always wanted to go to Washington, D.C., and I probably never would have if not for this trip,” Gilbert said.
The Northeast Wisconsin Old Glory Honor Flight left Appleton at about 6:30 a.m. and landed in Washington, D.C., at about 10:15 a.m.
“I was surprised at the beautiful terrain in Washington,” Gilbert said. “I thought it would be more flat, but there were a lot hills. It was beautiful. It was a really nice city.”
The tour for the veterans and their companions (about 160 people total) included Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Iwo Jima, Air Force and Lincoln memorials.
“We rode around in buses and there were a lot of things to see – lots of big buildings,” Gilbert said. “I really liked it.”
Unfortunately, Roloff missed a lot of the attractions.
“I got air sick on the flight over,” he said. “They took good care of me, but I missed some of the monuments.”
He was treated by the on-flight doctor and nursing staff.
Gilbert’s favorite monument was the Korean War Memorial, while Roloff was most impressed with the Iwo Jima Memorial.
“It was huge – much bigger than I expected,” he said.
This was Gilbert’s first trip to Washington, D.C. He was slightly disappointed that they did not visit the White House. As an artist, he had always wanted to see the artwork there.
Roloff had visited the nation’s capital many years ago with his friend, the late Hyde Murray.
“Coming back was almost more fun than the flight going there,” Gilbert said. “I had planned to sleep, but enjoyed watching all the lights from all the cities.”
On the return flight, each veteran received a care package and other gifts.
“We couldn’t even carry everything they gave us,” Roloff said.
During mail call, each veteran received letters from family, school children and politicians.
A large crowd greeted the veterans when they landed in Appleton at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5. The crowd included family, friends and various veteran and civic groups.
The Glory Flight veterans had no idea that a crowd awaited them as they deplaned. They were kept behind a curtain as the crowd tried to remain quiet.
“When the curtain opened, the bands blasted and people were yelling,” Roloff said. “That sure was a surprise.”
“Seeing the crowd brought tears to my eyes,” Gilbert said. “It was overwhelming – I couldn’t believe it.”
“I figured there would be a few people there, but not that many,” Roloff added.
Gilbert shook hands with one of his cousin from Sheboygan and wondered what she was doing so far from home.
“But I didn’t see her again,” he said.
With all the commotion, Roloff and Gilbert hurried from the airport and never met up with family and friends who had come to welcome them home.
Although she was disappointed that she missed him at the airport, Roloff’s wife, Dolores, was glad he made the trip.
“It’s something he has been thinking about for a very long time and he finally got to go,” she said.
Years of service
Gilbert served in the U.S. Army from 1950 through 1952. His service was during the Korean War, with his overseas duty including one year in Germany.
Born in Crandon, he worked as an artist for ad agencies in Racine and Oshkosh, which brought him to the New London area.
A widower since 1991, he is the father of three children – Robert, Wava, and Jeff, who died three years ago.
Gilbert is now retired, but continues oil painting. He especially loves to paint wildlife, landscapes and portraits.
Roloff served in the U.S. Army from 1948 through late December of 1951.
“I thought I could sign up for one year and then join the Reserves, but I was back in again in 1950,” he said.
His unit was trained and scheduled to go to Korea.
“I was supposed to go to Korea, but my good ol’ captain took my name off the list two days before my wedding,” Roloff recalled. “That captain probably saved my life.”
During the winter of 1948-49, Roloff drove truck in the Army’s transportation corps that participated in “Operation Snowbound.” It was his unit’s job to run supplies out to the snowbound ranches in North Dakota. He recalls that they dropped hay to cattle in the remote regions.
“They were so snowed in up there that the government had to help,” he said. “There were 100-foot-deep drifts in the roads, but we had a good time.”
Roloff was born in Royalton and worked at Simmons in New London, serving as a supervisor for 27 years prior to his retirement.
He and his wife have three children –Dennis, Randy and Lori.