In July 1953, Army Corporal Dick Waddington was on a troopship in Yokohama harbor, about to return from 14 months of service in Japan during the Korean War. Suddenly, cheering broke out from nearby ships and docks. The soldier and others would soon learn that armistice had been announced, ending the fighting in Korea.
Nearly 64 years later, at 4:30 a.m. on Memorial Day of 2017, Dick and 21 other veterans, nine from World War II, 12 from Korea, and one who served in both Korea and Vietnam, boarded a Southwest Airlines Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Landing in Baltimore, the vets and their entourage met the Capital Park Police for a motorcycle escort.
A warm welcome awaited them at the capital.
"I shook more hands than I ever did in my life," Dick recalled later. Among the greeters, Dick met former Sen. Bob Dole, who was pleased when Dick told him about visiting Dole's hometown of Russell, Kansas.
Following the reception, the vets took a whirlwind tour of Washington's monuments, including the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Air Force, and Navy monuments, the Iwo Jima memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The highlight for Dick, he said, was the Korean War memorial featuring 19 life-sized statues of combat soldiers advancing warily.
By 8:30 p.m., the St. Louis veterans were back at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.
"It was exhausting but fantastic," Dick said, adding, "I was most impressed by the recognition all the veterans got from the public."
After Dick returned from his war, the University City High grad stayed in the Army Reserve, receiving his discharge in 1959 as a Sergeant First Class. He also found time to attend Washington University, marry and be widowed twice, and have a career as a retail buyer and merchandising manager. Today, his family includes four children, two step-sons, seven grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He has been volunteering at Missouri Baptist Medical Center for 15 years, working two shifts a week at the information desk and in the surgery waiting room.
Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans. The Honor Flight program has hosted more than 1500 St. Louis veterans on a trip to Washington since beginning in 2008.