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A flight in their honor

Alex Doty • Apr 21, 2018 at 9:00 AM

The bond of family isn’t the only thing that connects Grand Haven’s Bob Wolniakowski, 88, and George Schippers, 85 — the two are also Korean War veterans.

That bond of service to country is the reason the two veterans took to the skies early this (Saturday) morning on a special trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Talons Out Honor Flight.

“I think it’s going to be a great trip,” Schippers said Friday, prior to departing for the flight. “I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, at my age.”

Flying out of Kalamazoo, the duo is traveling alongside more than 80 other veterans as part of the Honor Flight.

Talons Out is a regional hub of the national non-profit organization Honor Flight, which honors veterans with an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, where they tour monuments built in the honor of their service.

World War II and terminally ill veterans from other conflicts take priority status on the flights. In 2016, Talons Out began to officially accept Korean War veteran applications.

Grand Haven Township resident Jean Wolniakowski, who heard about the program, submitted the application for her father (Schippers) and father-in-law (Wolniakowski) to take part in the experience.

“Two years ago last fall, they were signed up,” she said. “A friend of mine in Houston told me about it. Her father went on it.”

Jean Wolniakowski said she’s looked forward to the opportunity for the two men to travel to Washington, visit the memorials and interact with other veterans. 

“I am so excited for them (and) I am really excited,” she said.

The trip to the nation’s capital marks several firsts for the two veterans.

“I had been before, years and years ago,” said Schippers, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-55. “But none of the memorials were there when I was there.”

Schippers said he looks forward to viewing all of the memorials and monuments dedicated to those who’ve served in the armed forces, and noted that he was especially looking forward to viewing the Korean War memorial.

For Wolniakowski, the trip to D.C. is an entirely new experience. The U.S. Army veteran, who served from 1951-53, noted that he’s never traveled to Washington.

“I’d never think about going out there now,” he said. “You get to be 88 years old and don’t feel like going out anymore.”

Wolniakowski said having the volunteers involved in the Honor Flight organization put together the trips for veterans makes the impossible possible.

“It’s quite a big deal to have a volunteer group like this get together and line everything up,” he said.

All participating veterans are required to have a guardian with them on the trip, which will be the two men’s sons, George Schippers and Robert Wolniakowski.

“I think it will be great for both of us,” the elder Schippers said of getting the chance to travel with his son, who also served in the Navy. “I’m sure he’s going to enjoy it, (and) I’m sure he’s not going to like pushing me around.”

The younger Wolniakowski was also looking forward to the experience.

“I am sure Dad’s got some stories to say along the way,” he said. “It is going to be a long day.”

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