Chillicothean Robert Berg's first and only airplane ride came unlike most others, it was free.
The 87-year-old traveled around the world by sea through his service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, but it was his service that earned him a free trip through the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight on Oct. 16.
Touted as "One more tour with honor," the flight allows veterans a chance to travel to Washington, D.C., to take in the experience of seeing memorials and sights. World War II veterans are given priority as the flights are limited each year.
A friend in Texas, where Berg spends the winter months, mentioned the trip, which is a national endeavor. His best friend and companion, Mary Massengill Potter, worked behind the scenes to arrange the trip, knowing Berg's nervousness of flying for the first time was holding him back from taking the trip. After some encouragement from his children, Berg agreed to go.
"Sam and Mary contributed a lot to me going," said Berg, who said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Making the trip with him was Potter's son, Sam Massengill, who served as Berg's "guardian" for the trip. Guardians may be someone other than a spouse and must be able to push a wheelchair if need be, as well as keeping up with the veterans. They attend a training session before the flight, and pay their way.
The Chillicothe men spent a night in a motel to make the early flight of 6:30 a.m. from the Abraham Lincoln Airport in Springfield.
He told the stewardess he had never been on a plane before, and she ushered him into the cockpit to check out the plane before the flight.
"That was really a highlight for me," said Berg.
With 162 people on the trip, 47 of which were in wheelchairs, most of the visitors were World War II veterans.
Once they landed at Reagan Airport, they boarded buses to head to the World War II Memorial along with stops at the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the National Air and Space Museum and Iwo Jima. They also witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. Berg estimated he walked 10 to 12 miles that day to see all the sights.
"I'd advise anyone who has an opportunity to take it, take it," said Berg.
The day's activities, food and more all were taken care of by the honor flight.
"You don't have a thing to worry about. They took care of us," said Berg.
With Massengill capturing what they saw by camera, Berg had time to let the memorial sink in. He choked up, and still does so now in talking about the experience, seeing all the stars lining one part of the memorial. Each star represented 100 lives lost in the war, with 4,048 stars a part of the memorial.
He also had time to read each of the notations around the memorial: some marking places, battles and quotes about sacrifice and service.
While the words used around the World War II Memorial impressed Berg, the Korean War Memorial's use of sculptures captivated his attention. The faces, he said, seemed so lifelike.
Once they saw all the memorials and museums they could, they headed back to Springfield, with a few surprises along the way. When they were at about 20,000 feet, the veterans received a special viewing of Washington, D.C., at night.
"It was fantastic. I've never seen anything like it," said Berg.
The man on the speaker told the veterans they were doing something a little different that evening, he had airmail to distribute. Out came a stack of envelopes for Berg from friends and family expressing their happiness for his adventure, as well as a drawing from a child he did not know. Potter gathered the letters before Berg left, unbeknownst to him.
"It makes me feel good. You always read about proud Americans. I can't tell you how proud I am," said Berg.
A man played the bagpipes to greet the group around 9:30 p.m. as they entered the airport to a crowd of more than 1,000 people eager to see them return home. Waiting for Berg and Massengill were Potter with a sign welcoming Berg home, as well as his daughter, Judy, and her husband.
While his service in World War II ended more than 66 years ago, Berg's memories of not only the war but also of his recent trip remain.
A thick photo album showcases the tangible experience Berg had that day. As he closed the book after sharing his adventure, he said, "Now you've gone on the trip with me."