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Two U.S. military veterans from Louisiana who were on Great River Honor Flights to Washington D.C. in recent months have one thing in common.
It was one of the highlights of their lives.
Army veteran Don Giltner, 80, took the trip honoring veterans for their service in April and fellow Army veteran Russell Ransdell, 84, went in May.
Giltner served from 1954 to 1959 during the Cold War and was deployed to the far East as a courier.
“I got to go all over,” Giltner said. “I had a .45 strapped to my side and a briefcase handcuffed to my arm. I was very proud to serve.”
When he came home “My mother didn’t ask my about the service. She just said ‘When you get unpacked, get your clothes on, we’ve got to go to the field.”
The former mayor of Louisiana and school administrator said when the honor flight plane from St. Louis landed in Baltimore “They had ladder trucks on the runway and were spraying water over the plane as it taxied in.”
Once in the terminal, “We walked in and there was about 100 people applauding,” he said. “It brought tears to our eyes. Young servicemen were saluting everyone and thanking us. We didn’t expect it.”
Giltner’s group toured the Korean War, World War II and Lincoln Memorials in Washington, D.C., among others.
“During that day, I probably cried more than any other day in my life,” he said.
When he saw people taking rubbings of the names of the deceased on the Vietnam Memorial wall “It had a very sobering effect.”
However, a strange thing occurred with the 32 veterans on Giltner’s flight.
“Not a one mentioned anything about their service,” he said. “They were just very appreciative to be selected for the group.”
When they suffered a three-hour bus breakdown during the trip, “It didn’t bother us,” Giltner said. “Someone said, ‘Oh well, it’s just like being back in the service.’”
The one major thing Giltner got out of the trip was that it “Renewed my faith in the American people and my country,” he said.
“People do have respect for each other. People love this country. This was our day and everything was done for us.”
Veterans don’t pay for the flights that are financially backed by donations.
Russell Ransdell, 84, went to the Korean War in 1953 and was in an artillery unit.
“I had combat pay for every month I was there.”
He remembers getting shelled often by the North Koreans, but doesn’t dwell on war stories
“I like to tell people about the funny stuff that happened when I was over there,” he said.
One day they were shelled and everyone in the mess tent ran to a foxhole. One of them, a lieutenant, “Had a cracker in his hand he was holding up in the air. He was still holding that cracker up in the air when the shelling stopped. He didn’t want to lose that cracker.”
When he got home to Hannibal “People said ‘Nice to have you home. By the way, where is Korea?’”
Ransdell landed a job at the old Hercules chemical plant outside of Louisiana and worked there for 35 years, retiring in 1992 after an eight-year stint in the safety department.
His sister sent him an application about the honor flight trip but he was apprehensive about filling it out because he feared the trip would be too much after two heart bypass surgeries.
Now he’s glad he did.
When he got off the plane at Baltimore “There was military people there to greet us and there were people clapping and cheering.”
Touring the war memorials impressed him. When he saw the Korean War Memorial, “It brought back memories of how cold the winters were there when it got 17 below.”
At each memorial “there were young people on field trips congratulating you and shaking your hand. You wouldn’t think they knew about the Korean War. It was surprising.”
One group from Houston, Mo. serenaded his flight members with the national anthem and a spiritual.
“That’s what made the trip, the unexpected things,” Ransdell said.
On the bus ride back to Hannibal-LaGrange University at the end of the trip more than a mile of motorcycles escorted them to the college down Hwy. 61.
It was the culmination of Ransdell’s honor to serve his country.
“If you were called back then it was your sense of duty to go,” he said. “You didn’t fully understand why you were going what you were doing but you realize over the years that you made a difference.”