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Honor Flight full of special moments

Dennis Grall photo Members of the United States Marine Corps silent drill team perform in front of the iconic Iwo Jima statue in Arlington, Va. Wednesday. It was the final stop for Upper Peninsula Honor Flight Mission 16.

ESCANABA — Honor flights are jam-packed with special moments and highlights.

Mission 16 was no different Wednesday as 77 Upper Peninsula veterans spent the day in Washington D.C. visiting numerous monuments built for their service to this country.

A rare Wednesday performance by the U.S. Marine Corps silent drill team at the fabled Iwo Jima monument provided the coup de grace of the 13-hour round trip from Escanaba. The Sun Country jet left under rain and returned just before rain, thunder and lightning sprinkled across the airport.

But perhaps more magical for two Escanaba veterans was the chance at a minor family reunion. Frank Sliva was surprisingly greeted by his grandson, Brandon Sliva, at the Vietnam Wall. Brandon and his wife, the former Anika Hughes of Escanaba, had just been home Saturday for his 21st birthday. On the way back to their respective military assignments (USMC Camp Lejuene for Brandon and Norfolk Air Force Base for Anika), they adjusted their route to surprise Frank Sliva.

“They surprised the hell out of me,” Frank Sliva said after posing for a brief family photo at the Vietnam Wall. Anita Couillard, Sliva’s guardian, initiated the impromptu idea by sending the Washington itinerary to the couple. “Brandon has never been there,” said Couillard. “He said goodbye Saturday, then came here (after stopping in Pittsburgh Tuesday to watch the Pirates).”

Rev. Emmett Norden, 90, also had a brief reunion with his brother, Roger, 97, of Dewery, Md. at the World War II memorial, the day’s initial stop. Emmett served in Korea, the monument which was the next stop on the tour, while Roger served in World War II. Their father was in World War I, and another brother, Allen, was seriously wounded during WW’II’s horrific Battle of the Bulge.

“It was wonderful,” Emmett said of seeing his brother, who wore his Army uniform that displayed a Purple Heart.

Emmett Norden said seeing the WW II monument was “a highlight” of the trip. “All these people (more than 400,000) who gave their lives so we could live in peace.” he said shortly after posing for a photo with U.P. Congressman Jack Bergman.

Two Army veterans from Escanaba thoroughly enjoyed their visit. Gary Grill was with the First Air Cav in maintenance in Vietnam while Linda Arsenault was one of three female veterans on the trip. She was a medical transcriber at Brooke Army Center in San Antonio (1970-73).

“I processed temporary retirements for wounded soldiers,” she said, indicating she also saw “all the amputees and burn patients. We had a plastic surgeon in our office and I saw some gruesome things. I don’t like to think about it.

“Unless you were a nurse, you didn’t go to Vietnam. They kept you out of the actual war.”

Arsenault then became one of Michigan’s first women to join the National Guard, serving at Gladstone from 1973-77.

Grill said his job “was very interesting and time went by real fast.” He said watching the stately Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington Cemetary was a highlight Wednesday, noting “the kind of respect you get at that location.”

He also found the name of a former Rhinelander, Wis. classmate on the Vietnam Wall, noting Bill Hurkmans died June 22, 1968, the day Grill arrived in country.

Paula Waeghe of Gladstone, a veteran volunteer/organizer of these Honor Flight missions, missed her first flight Wednesday due to illness. She called in sick Tuesday as she also missed the meet-and-greet at Quality Inn.

Before the plane left Escanaba Wednesday, Escanaba High School teacher Lynn Sodergren sang the national anthem on the Sun Country jet.

The USMC drill team performance at Iwo Jima came after the past few flights were forced to miss that iconic statue because of major renovations. Those veterans saw the Air Force silent drill team perform at the Air Force monument, the newest military vista.

The USMC team normally performs at Iwo Jima on Tuesday night while joining the USMC marching band at Marine Headquarters at the fabled 8th and I barracks on Friday night.

The Marines put on a shortened version of their normal routine, with a large gathering of various school groups also in attendance.

A veteran volunteer, Dr. Mary Tobin Anderson of Marquette, participated in her 10th mission Wednesday. Her first flight came in 2013.

Employed at Lakewood Clinic in Harvey, Anderson is one of three medics on each flight. “We keep an eye on everybody. We sort of troubleshoot if anything comes up on the flight,” she said.

It doesn’t allow for much sight-seeing, but they are not on the flight for that purpose. “It has been just minor issues, little scrapes and things,” said Anderson. “We’re not assigned a veteran so we can be available, sort of mingle.

“We always keep an eye on the vets, our main priority, and on the guardians.”

They may help with medications, such as administering insulin when even a family member of a veteran has trouble handling that procedure.

“Some vets are more fragile so we keep an eye on them and support their guardian,” said Anderson. “Sometimes it is overwhelming for a guardian.”

Anderson’s father, Dr. James Tobin Jr., of Ishpeming, was a World War II veteran and her sister, Catherine Tobin, served in the Air Force.

“I wanted to serve (on Honor Flight) partly to honor him and my sister. I jumped at the opportunity. This way I get to meet as many veterans and guardians as I can.”

She has also served as a missionary to Greece and Jordan, working with Syrian refugees, since 2017. The 2004 graduate of Michigan State University’s medical school, she has four children. Anderson said “It has been an amazing experience. I am absolutely blessed to have this privilege.”

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