Midwest Honor Flight photo: A group of about 80 veterans traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 24 as a part of Midwest Honor Flight Mission 5.

BROOKINGS – Four local veterans traveled on Midwest Honor Flight Mission 5 to Washington, D.C., to tour around for the day, seeing a variety of military monuments and memorials.

Korean War veterans and Brookings residents Robert Brotsky, Don Derdall, Don Bren and Magnus Olson were all on the Sept. 24 flight, which held 80 total veterans and was sponsored almost entirely by Smithfield Foods. The group of veterans saw six of the major memorials: Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima), and the war memorials of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Brotsky was stationed in Anchorage as a part of a special unit called the Special Category Army Reassigned with Air Force (SCARAF) and worked on various engineering assignments during the Korean War. He later came back to Brookings with his degree in civil engineering and worked for Banner Associates for 42 years.

Derdall was an Army infantryman on the 38th Parallel, the front line of the Korean War. He served in the 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division; they were known as the “Wolfhounds.” When he came back to South Dakota, he wanted a simple life so he had a long career of farming.

Bren was a senior bomb navigation technician for the Air Force from 1951-1959. He and his friends enlisted into the Air Force right out of high school; the reason for that was that he and his friends “really weren’t up to too much,” said Bren jokingly.

Olson was a combat engineer in the Army during the Korean War, serving as a demolitions expert. After his time in the military, Olson went on to start his own painting and wallpaper business.

The four men said they all loved the Honor Flight. They weren’t entirely sure if they were going to be able to go on the Sept. 24 flight because the flight chose 80 out of 650 applicants, Olson said.

The Midwest Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that is run entirely by volunteers. The first all-expense-paid flight of veterans was in August 2017.

“They were so gracious,” Bren said. “I have never seen an organization that works so functionally and makes this thing work in one day and still lets you see everything.”

The Honor Flight group was escorted by police throughout the D.C. area to each memorial. And at each gathering and arrival and departure, the 80 veterans were greeted by hundreds of people, all donning the American flag and offering a welcoming handshake. When they came back to Sioux Falls, Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune and Gov. Kristi Noem and a couple hundred people welcomed them home.

Olson said that his war began when he was 9 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He said that times were “trying,” and war enveloped much of his life; but it was the Honor Flight that really helped him put his war behind him. “So when we got started with (the Honor Flight) … it really put a finish to my military career,” beamed Olson.

The four men each gave a bit of advice that can be summarized as such: freedom isn’t free.

“You get a lot of criticism these days,” Brotsky said, “over Congress and the president or state government, but you know, the bottom line is this is a pretty good country. Had those veterans not fought as they did in World War II, there’s no doubt in my mind this wouldn’t be the United States anymore.”

“I think we need more exposure – to the younger people – of what all of us branches of the services went through from World War I on up, as to what you have today. Freedom is not free,” Bren said.

For more information about the Honor Flight and how to donate or if you know a veteran who is eligible to apply, visit midwesthonorflight.org.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at mrhodes@brookingsregister.com.

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