Paul Speelman and granddaughter Paula Bogle pose in front of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. (Photo submitted)
Paul Speelman and granddaughter Paula Bogle pose in front of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. (Photo submitted)

VAN WERT – When Van Wert’s Paul Speelman was asked about going to Washington, D.C. he wasn’t interested at first, but after some convincing from his granddaughter, Paula Bogle, who explained what Honor Flight was, he finally said “yes” and now sums up the experience in one word: “awesome!”

Speelman was drafted into the Army in the 1st Armored Division as heavy artillery in 1952 and was enlisted until 1954. Speelman took basic training in Fort Hood, Texas.

“Then I was transferred over to New Jersey, to get transferred to wherever I was going to go, either North Korea or over to Germany,” said Speelman. “I was lucky, I got to go to Germany. I loved it there; I was in Heidelberg.”

As a Korean War veteran, Speelman qualified for the Honor Flight. After filling out some paperwork, he and Bogle, as his guardian, went on Honor Flight #32 to Washington, D.C. on May 22, 2019, where they saw the memorials dedicated to veterans like Speelman.

A week before the flight, veterans, spouses, and guardians met at Texas Roadhouse in Fort Wayne and were treated to a meal to meet each other before the flight.

The day of the Honor Flight began early at 5 a.m. in Fort Wayne. Eighty-four veterans and guardians traveled to Washington, D.C. When the flight landed at their destination, the veterans were greeted by a large group of people. The Honor Flight bus was then escorted around D.C. by police.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Speelman. “When we got to Washington, they had hundreds of people lined up greeting us. I told them I wasn’t greeted this way when I came home. They said, ‘We’re doing it now.’”

Bogle noted that there were many people lining the walkway through the airport; she said that the terminal was decorated and old-time music was being played.

“There were a lot of people there that were just on flights that would stop and shake his hand and thank him for his service,” said Bogle.

Speelman received the same experience when he returned home that night around 9 p.m. On the return home, he also received a package with letters, notes, and gifts from students and people thanking him for his service, including three of his great-grandkids from Crestview.

Speelman said the flight to and from D.C. was much nicer than flights he took during his time in the Army.

“I had to go to Metz, France, and then dad fell over at the quarry,” said Speelman recalling his time while enlisted. “They told my commanding officer that I had to go home. We had to ride up to Greenland; we stayed there overnight.”

“Then we took off from Greenland, I don’t know how far we got, but the pilot said, ‘we got to turn around and go back,’” Speelman continued. “I looked out the window and saw the problem, we only had one engine on this thing; I was scared to death.”

Speelman said he rode home from Greenland in a cargo plane with bucket seats and when the plane would hit an air pocket, he said it felt like the plane was being ripped apart. Speelman noted that his ride in an airplane this time was a lot smoother.

“Coming back from Washington was like being in a car,” Speelman said.

While in D.C., Speelman was able to see the different memorials dedicated to each war, including the Korean Memorial.

“That was awesome,” said Speelman of the Korean Memorial. “They had their ponchos and weapons.”

“I liked the [memorial] where the nurse was holding the solider,” added Speelman speaking of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Speelman also stated that he was taken aback by the number of names on the Vietnam Wall.

Another event, Speelman, and Bogle got to witness was the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. While there, Speelman visited Arlington Cemetery and posed in front of John Glenn’s grave.

“I’ve been to D.C. multiple times,” said Bogle. “But this time, it was different. It was really neat getting to see the memorials and be at the memorials with the veterans, watching their faces and their expressions.”

“It was great,” said Speelman. “I didn’t care to go at first, but she (Bogle) had it all set up.”

Bogle noted that Honor Flight is able to meet a variety of needs and that there is a doctor aboard the flight. Honor Flight also provides wheelchairs and suggests their use in order to save energy.

Honor Flight provided the group with meals for the day. In addition to the activities, Speelman received a special surprise when his daughter-in-law met him and Bogle in D.C. and joined them for supper.

Speelman said he highly suggests other veterans that are eligible take the Honor Flight.

“I encourage anyone that has a veteran in their life to take them,” added Bogle. “It was an amazing experience. Even as a guardian it was so neat to get to show him and read all the memorials to him and explain what they were and what they meant.”

“It was all about celebrating the veterans and honoring them and showing appreciation,” continued Bogle. “That’s what the entire day was about from the beginning to the end; it was amazing. Getting to do it together was pretty awesome.”

“I’d go again,” added Speelman.

Speelman and his wife, Janet, spent most of their life residing in the Convoy area and now live in Van Wert.