Local veteran takes Honor Flight

Robert Bell, of Jasper, recently went on an Honor Flight, accompanied by his daughter, Kimberly Staebell-Fleming, who served as his guard- ian. The two are pictured here in front of the Korean War Memorial. Contributed photo

On June 1, Jasper resident Robert Bell and 83 other veterans took a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. with Midwest Honor Flight.

“It was outstanding,” said Bell, who is 79. “It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.”

The trip began with a banquet at the Sioux Falls Convention Center on May 31. They then spent the night in Sioux Falls and had to be in the lobby of the hotel by 3:30 a.m. to be ready to leave from the Sioux Falls Regional Airport. The group arrived in Washington, D.C. at around 8 a.m.

They visited Arlington National Cemetery, Grant’s Tomb, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and more. Bell said the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a highlight of the trip for him. He said he appreciated the precision, which reminded him of his time in the military.

“They had it down pat,” Bell said. “Twenty-two steps.”

Bell, who had never been to Washington, D.C. before, said the tour guide on the bus was very knowledgeable about the area and kept the group well informed.

The group arrived back in Sioux Falls around 9:15 p.m. on June 1. There was then a welcome home ceremony at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Each veteran had a guardian who accompanied them on the trip. Bell’s daughter Kimberly Staebell-Fleming, who lives in Sioux Falls, served as his guardian. In addition to the veterans and their guardians, the group included Honor Flight representatives and medical personnel.

Bell served in the United States Army from 1960 to 1973 and also served in the National Guard for several years. He spent three tours in Vietnam, in 1965, 1967 and 1968, and spent time in Germany, Alaska and other places during his time in the Army. He said he made some good friends during his service.

“It was a good experience,” Bell said.

On one occasion, he even met a fellow Jasper resident while serving in Germany.

“I was just about to march the platoon down to motor pool, to the motor stables, and an ambulance went by and a guy hollered, ‘Bobby, Bobby, Bobby,’” Bell said. “It was Terry Skyberg. It is a small world.”

The Jasper Lions Club and Pipestone Lions Club held a fundraiser for Midwest Honor Flight in January and Bell’s wife, Maureen, said someone there suggested that she sign her husband up for the trip. She filled out the application and he was accepted.

Honor Flights are provided at no cost to the veterans. Aaron Van Beek, president and director of Midwest Honor Flight, said veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and those from any war who are terminally ill are eligible to take Honor Flights. Midwest Honor Flight provides the trips for veterans in South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and parts of Nebraska.

Van Beek said Midwest Honor Flight has provided trips for 900 veterans on 10 flights since it formed in 2017. There are three more flights planned for this fall and its goal is to provide four flights a year. For more information, to apply or to donate, go to midwesthonorflight.org.