WASHINGTON — As he walked around the memorial to his service, Maynard Madsen, 81, pondered his time in the Korean War as a telephone wireman with an artillery unit.
It was his task to repair the phone lines when they were severed. Otherwise, forward observers couldn't communicate with the 105mm guns behind them trying to zero in on the enemy.
Madsen, who is from Audubon, Iowa, recalled one night in particular when they had to repair the lines amid a heavy enemy bombardment.
“They kept blowing the lines up and we kept staying out there,” he said. “We did more crawling than walking that night.”
Madsen was one of the 130 veterans from western Iowa who traveled to Washington on Wednesday as part of the latest Honor Flight. Nearly all were veterans of the Korean War.
The group coordinated with Nebraskans who spent Tuesday in Washington on a similar one-day trip. By using the same plane back to back, organizers were able to lower the cost for the trips, which are funded by donations.
The Iowans on Wednesday's trip marveled at the Korean War Veterans Memorial's strikingly authentic depiction of 19 soldiers on patrol.
They used words like “eerie” and a couple confessed to a bit of a funny feeling of anxiety as they walked up to the memorial.
Those soldiers seem so real, they said, that as you approach it's almost like you become part of their patrol. And who knows if you're walking right into an enemy sniper's rifle sights.
As they milled about the memorial, the veterans swapped stories of what they saw during their time in Korea, of the comrades lost, the devastation the war wrought it raged up and down the Korean peninsula.
Some had experiences full of bullets and explosions. Others described their relatively quiet time overseas.
Roscoe Sharon, 82, of Council Bluffs, was in the Air Force and helped maintain the aircraft.
“You don't think about it all the time,” he said. “But this just brings back memories wham-bam.”
Organizer Jeff Ballenger said there has been high demand among the veterans of western Iowa to join these trips.
“It's the least we can do for them,” Ballenger said.
The group visited Arlington National Cemetery, where they saw the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns and stopped by other war service memorials in the nation's capital.
Ask Dale Sloth, 87, of Audubon, what he was doing in Korea and he'll tell you he was a line medic with a rifle company, patching up the wounded. He'll tell you how he provided them with morphine when necessary to dull their pain.
He'll tell you about living on C-rations. How when the beans and franks froze solid, he would chip them out of the can with his bayonet. And how they didn't taste all that great at that point.
First, though, he'll point to one high-priority task he had in Korea.
“Trying to stay alive.”