By Chad Koenen


Bernal Cichy and John Saari never received a hero’s welcome home when they returned from the Vietnam War some 50 years ago. Instead, protesters often greeted soldiers as they arrived home from combat overseas. It was a display almost unthinkable today, yet was an all-the-real occurrence in the heart of the Vietnam War.

While it may have taken half a century to receive a rousing reception off an airplane, Cichy, Saari and 99 veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars who attended a recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. received a welcome home they will never forget.

“When you get back to Fargo the reception there is phenomenal,” said Cichy. “Full of people clapping and people that care.”

A total of 99 veterans attended the Honor Flight from April 30 to May 2. The flight takes veterans and caretakers, if needed, on an all-expenses trip from Fargo, N.D. to Washington, D.C. 

“I heard about it four years ago and I signed up. I was close to going and then Covid shut everything down,” said Cichy.

The Honor Flight of North Dakota and Minnesota is a 501c3 non-profit, 100 percent volunteer organization that takes veterans to Washington, D.C. free of charge to visit the memorials. They take a charter plane to the nation’s capital, as well as charter buses during their time on the East Coast. 

Veterans who have served anywhere at any time, in any branch of the military during World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam Wars can apply to go on the Honor Flight. 

Both Cichy and Saari said the Honor Flight organization provided a first class trip to the veterans and did so at no cost thanks to several generous donations. At several of the tour stops, like at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guards provided a special tap of their shoes during the changing of the guard since there were veterans in attendance. 

“Every place these guys went they said thank you,” said John Saari, who accompanied his dad on the trip. “I don’t know what school they were from, but when they got off the bus they clapped.”

Cichy said as the trip approached he was unsure if he would be able to follow through with the experience. The rural Henning farmer served in the 25th Infantry Unit from 1969-70 and was part of a group that invaded Cambodia and spent 35 days in that country.

Not only did he decide to make the trip to the East Coast, but he said seeing the Vietnam Memorial and other important military monuments was almost calming to him. In fact, this was the first time Cichy had ever visited Washington, D.C. He strongly encourages everyone who is a veteran and served in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and Korean War to register for the Honor Flight. The only requirement is a person must be a veteran during those wars. They did not necessarily need to serve overseas or even see active combat.

“I would strongly encourage anyone who can sign up for it to do so,” he said. 

While in the greater Washington, D.C. area the group visited the World War II memorial, the National Museum of the US Army, Iowa Jima memorial, the Vietnam Wall, Korean Memorial and Lincoln Memorial, the changing of the guard ceremony, Arlington National Cemetery, National Archives, Navy Memorial and Ft. McHenry where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. 

Another highlight of the trip for the older Saari was the mail call. One day each veteran received letters from back home like they would have during their time serving in the military. For Saari, that meant letters from family members, friends and his grandsons second grade class at Henning School. Saari kept the letters, which included handmade cards from Stephanie Jorgenson’s classroom at the school.

There were also banquets on Sunday and Monday night in Washington, D.C. By the second night the group of veterans had already formed a lasting bond like they had known each other their entire lives. 

“It was just like everybody was visiting like they were friends forever,” said Saari, who served on the USS Hancock from 1961-65 in the Navy. “No one was in a hurry to go back to their room.”

In addition to their once-in-a-lifetime trip, the veterans who attended the Honor Flight received a polo, a jacket and special cap signifying their experience on the Honor Flight. 

For more information, or to apply to go on the Honor Flight, contact (218) 28HONOR or visit