Toni Blochowski always has been proud of her father, Clemens Tafelski, especially of his service during World War II. So when memorials were being built in the nation’s capital, she started making contributions in his honor, all the while planning to take him to Washington, D.C., to see the tributes.
The executive secretary to the chief of staff and the vice president of government relations wanted to make that trip a few years ago when the memorials were finished, but her father didn’t want to go because of his deteriorating eyesight. And then he passed away in 2007.
So after Blochowski saw an ad in the paper for Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, she looked up information about the nonprofit organization that sends area veterans to Washington, D.C., to see memorials built and dedicated in their honor.
“I thought if I can’t take my father, I can still go and take someone else’s dad,” she said.
Blochowski and her husband, Gary, filled out applications to be Honor Flight Northwest Ohio guardians — volunteers who travel with area veterans and assist them during the trip to D.C.
They received the call they had been accepted just weeks before the May 27 trip.
The Blochowskis each paid $400 for the honor of escorting local heroes, who traveled and ate for free thanks to corporate and individual donations.
Toni was paired with Rudy, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and Gary was matched with George, who served in World War II.
“It was such an honor to meet Rudy and see how humble he was about everything. He kept saying he wasn’t a hero,” Toni said.
Veterans had the opportunity to see Arlington Cemetery, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
“After my father passed, Gary and I made visiting the World War II Memorial a priority — and doing that as guardians with the Honor Flight made it that much more special,” Toni said. “We knew dad was with us that day.”
When Rudy reached the WWII Memorial, Toni said he did not want to talk a lot; she said it was a very emotional time for him. She said George, on the other hand, liked sharing his war stories with Gary.
To ensure that both the veterans and the guardians were able to enjoy the daylong trip, military personnel were present to push wheelchairs and aid veterans in moving around. Blochowski said that the help of these soldiers gave her the opportunity to enjoy being with Rudy.
After viewing the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, they flew back to Toledo and received a lively reception, complete with a band. Rudy told Blochowski that the homecoming was great because he didn’t have anything like that when he returned from the war.
Blochowski was thrilled to have made a friend for life through the Honor Flight organization.
“The experience was very moving and emotional for both Gary and I as we wished my father could have visited the memorials with us. But we were honored to be escorts for such fine gentlemen as Rudy and George,” she said.
After the trip, Rudy took the time to type Toni a thank-you note: “I want you to know how grateful I am for you being my guardian on the Honor Flight. You and Gary are special people. It was a wonderful day — thank you so much.”
For more information on Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, volunteering as a guardian, supporting a veteran or traveling to Washington, D.C., to see the veteran memorials, visit www.honorflightnwo.org.