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Two take Badger Honor Flight
Gene Mason

Breakfast to Benefit Badger Honor Flight

When: 8 a.m. to noon June 5

Where: Monroe Moose Lodge, 639 3rd Ave.

What: Buffet-style breakfast

Cost: Adults $8, children 6-11 $4, children under 6 eat free

Why: The Badger Honor Flight sends veterans to Washington D.C. for free for a daily trip to see memorials built in their honor within the city.

MONROE - Sitting on almost two-and-a-half acres of the West Potomac Park in Washington D.C., the Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates the 5.72 million service members who fought for the United States during the three-year conflict.

Over a dozen statues, formed in the model of real servicemen, roam the area with their weapons and radios with wary looks upon their faces.

Gene Mason, now 87, described the scene as a lifelike patrol of soldiers moving above the front line.

"It brought you right back there," Mason said.

Mason served in the Korean War from 1950 to June of 1952. He was drafted while attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he was lauded as an all-around athlete, continuing his sports career from Monroe. Mason joined the 25th Army Infantry Division, eventually serving as a corporal. While in combat, Mason said, despite being hit with shrapnel and sustaining head injuries, he was luckier than the handful of men around him who died as a result of the hand grenade. He was sent to a MASH hospital, never again to serve on the front lines.

Last week, the Korean War veteran visited the memorial and others as a part of the Badger Honor Flight. The Honor Flight Network was formed in 2005 by a retired Air Force captain who treated veterans regularly as a part of his job working for the Department of Veterans Affairs at a clinic in Ohio. He put the program together after regular conversations with his patients made it obvious that a number of veterans would not be able to visit the memorials erected in their honor.

The Badger Honor Flight began in April of 2010. It serves veterans from Columbia, Dane, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Richland, Sauk and part of Dodge County. In two years, the program has been able to fly more than 500 veterans to Washington D.C. for the day trip.

"I thought it was tremendously great," Mason said. "The Korean War Memorial itself was very touching to me."

Mason was not the only Monroe veteran who took the flight on May 21. James Krieger, 84, was drafted into the Army for two years as well. He was made sergeant during his service in the Korean War between September of 1952 and mid-1954. He later moved to Monroe in 1961 and ran the Windy Acres Golf Course while raising nine children, and still resides in the city. The trip was the first time Mason and Krieger met, though Krieger said he had heard of the Monroe native who has made an impression on the town.

The scheduled itinerary allowed Krieger to see memorials he had not viewed for more than 20 years, the last time he had been to Washington, at that time alongside his wife. He said the opportunity was a unique experience. Changes which had been made or added were a treat to see.

Their schedule included not only the Korean War Veterans War Memorial, but also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. They were also given a police escort through the city as a narrator explained the history of the Capitol, the Pentagon and other noteworthy locations.

"If you're a veteran, you should go," Krieger said. "It was a great trip."

Mason agreed, and noted that Vietnam veterans should apply for the trip. He said because the generations of World War II and Korean War veterans are aging, the honor flight would have more room to take the men who served during that era. It would be especially important for Vietnam veterans, he said, because of the negative attitudes they endured on returning home from war due to controversy surrounding the war itself.

Both Krieger and Mason also said their own reception when they arrived back in Madison that evening was overwhelming.

"I was amazed at the amount of people," Krieger said. "The crowd's reception was a surprise."

More than 4,000 people gathered at the airport to applaud and shake hands with the veterans as they departed the plane in Madison after their day in Washington. Krieger said despite the bad things that happen in life, it was still inspiring to see all of the good people in the world. Mason was just as taken back by the gesture as he departed the plane.

"You feel pretty grateful that people recognize your service," Mason said. "And what you gave for your country."

The flight requires fundraising, and those in Monroe who want to help have scheduled Breakfast to Benefit Badger Honor Flight. The event will be from 8 a.m. to noon June 5 at the Monroe Moose Lodge, 639 3rd Ave.