When Cliff Merrill of Estherville went on an Honor Flight Sept. 25, he wasn't alone.
He went with a friend, Ken Rudy of Spirit Lake.
Like other veterans before and after, Merrill and Rudy experienced a whirlwind tour of the nation's capital that quite virtually took their breath away - just imagine, leaving early in the morning and flying to Washington, D.C. and touring all the major attractions, like the World War II Memorial and Iowa Jima Memorial, then returning the same day.
Cliff Merrill and Ken Rudy on the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Sept. 25.
Maybe a little like a B-17 bombing run.
The story behind the story, though, is what Merrill had to do to be able to get to take that flight.
It all started when he was drafted in 1942. Merrill was working as a mechanic in Trimont, Minn., married with a son on the way, when he was drafted and took his training in Texas and Hawaii. He then served in the infantry in the Philippines and Korea with the 40th Infantry Division.
Merrill had his share of close calls. While stationed on New Britain Island, an enemy mortar round landed just outside, dropping hot shrapnel on his arm.
Merrill recalls one time when the Japanese were shelling them from two miles away, zeroing in with tracers. A shell hit one of the tracks on the tank they were riding on, and they had to transfer to another tank. They lost one man when the shell hit.
"He went about 20 feet in the air and there was nothing left of him," Merrill said.
And then there was his bout with malaria.
Merrill contracted it in the Philippines.
"I almost died on my last attack but I haven't had any trouble since. That was about 50 years ago," Merrill said. "We used to say the mosquitoes were so large they checked your blood type on your dog tags."
"We took a lot of Japanese prisoners," Merrill recalled. He remembered one morning the prisoners were being fed when one spit in an NCO's face. So the NCO shot the prisoner in the face.
And then there was the constant hunger. With nothing to eat the last couple years but C-rations, Merrill returned to the States weighing 118 pounds.
Merrill was scheduled to take part in the invasion of mainland Japan, and three days before deployment the war ended.
Upon discharge, Merrill took a mechanic's exam, passing with flying colors. He worked for the Ford garage in Trimont then for 20 years was a mechanic at Donovan Motors in Estherville.
Some of those memories came back when Merrill left for Fort Dodge the day before the flight, staying overnight in a motel then leaving 8 the next morning. In mid-flight, they had mail call. Merrill's mail was a letter from his daughter, thanking him for his service.
There were guides for each group of five or six veterans, and when they returned, a group welcomed them back to Fort Dodge. "There was a whole group of people waiting for us to shake our hand," Merrill said.
So it was a homecoming - all over again. Only this time, much better.