Memories accompany vets

By Jeff Kiger

WASHINGTON — When 80 veterans from Minnesota arrived at the World War II Memorial on a sunny Saturday surrounded by cherry blossoms, they brought more than just memories.

Two American flags that had covered the coffins of fallen soldiers came with them.

One flag was in commemoration of George E. Lee, who died April 14, 1945, in northern Italy. Lee, who was with the 10th Mountain Unit, was the uncle of Rod Lee, who served as a volunteer "guardian" on the trip.


Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole served in the same unit, and Dole was injured in the same battle that took Lee’s life.

Veteran Stan Whiting carried the flag and a photo George E. Lee as Rod Lee pushed him through a corridor of the Minnesota veterans. The duo put the flag and photo on display in a place of honor in front of the Minnesota pillar.

An easel, to the left of the one that held Lee’s flag, displayed the flag of Luverne Carlson. He really wanted to make the Honor Flight trip, but he died last year. So his grandson, Jamie Carlson, an Iraq War veteran, who was serving as a trip guardian, brought the flag to remember his grandfather.

"You remember the people that didn’t get here," said Adolph Schumann, who flew 52 bombing missions in the Pacific theater. "Those are the ones you think about."

One flight in the Philippines was in his thoughts Saturday.

"Over Zambango (a peninsula on Mindanao island), we were the first three over and (the) second three got shot down … right behind us," he said. "… you remember those things."

For months Ken Axelson’s family thought he would not be coming home from his service.

The spry man, now with white hair and a big smile, served as a combat medic and made it through the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach only to be captured during the Siege of Bastogne in Belgium on Jan. 3, 1945.


"The Army told my family I was missing in action. They thought that through the winter," he said.

He was liberated April 2, 1945, and his family soon received a letter from him that he was all right.

Many families did not receive good news like Axelson’s.

After being asked about his memories, Helmer Undeberg of Eyota, who served as a Navy Seabee, stopped and looked at the fountain near the WWII Memorial.

"The friends you lost?" he said quietly. "Oh yeah … you think about them."

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