He honored veterans; then he was honored

A Lovell native who for years honored veterans was himself honored recently as the recipient of a Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

Former longtime resident and businessman Bob Negro, who established a veterans memorial more than 30 years ago at Big Horn IGA, which then became the Red Apple Supermarket, attended the honor flight with a group from Columbus, Ohio, accompanied by his wife, Carol, May 19-21.

Bob Negro is a veteran of the Korean War, serving in the U.S. Navy from 1950 to 1954.

Bob and Carol were able to accompany the Ohio group through the Lone Eagle Program, which they said is designed for states that no longer offer the flights or have an Honor Flight hub nearby.

The couple flew to Baltimore on May 19 for registration and orientation, enjoying a buffet dinner with the Ohio vets. On Saturday, May 20, the group was taken in three buses to Washington, D.C., to begin the tour of veterans’ memorials.

“We had a motorcycle escort and two patrol cars so we could go through red lights and all the traffic,” Bob Negro said. “It was so special to just get right through the traffic. The motorcycle policeman would move the cars off to the side of the road and the patrol cars would speed ahead through the intersections. We were treated like celebrities and the trip went very fast.”

The group then toured the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, as well as other Washington memorials and monuments.

Carol and Bob Negro pose in front of the Korean War Memorial May 20 during the Veterans Honor Flight weekend in Washington, D.C. A U.S. Navy veteran, Bob was able to travel with a group from Ohio.

“We arrived at the World War II Memorial and there were people lined on both sides of the walkway,” Negro said. “The World War II vets went first, most in wheelchairs, and people applauded them and thanked them for their service. Then the Korean and Vietnam veterans went through. It was very emotional and moving to see how respectful people were.

“One of the World War II vets was 101 years old. So many young students came up at the memorial and shook hands and thanked the veterans for their service. It was very refreshing to see the pride in their country. There are 56 columns in the memorial for the states and territories. We all took pictures standing in front of our states. There was a group there playing 40s music and dancing with some of the veterans.”

Next was the Lincoln Memorial, which Negro said was impressive with the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument in the background. The group then walked to the Korean Memorial.

“The expressions on the statues’ faces of the soldiers are so real that you feel like they are looking right at you,” Negro said. “It is almost haunting because they look so real.”

Then it was on to the Vietnam Veterans, where many people were making rubbings of the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

“It is a sobering experience,” Negro said.

Following box lunch on the bus, the group made a quick stop at the Naval Museum, which Negro said was interesting for Navy vets like him. The group then drove to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at 3 p.m.

“There are miles and miles of white grave markers,” he said. “It is so hard to believe how many soldiers have been lost in wars. They march in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 21 steps and back in all kinds of weather and do the gun drill. When he got to the end and turned to go back, he did a little, very slight foot shuffle to honor the veterans. We were lucky to see some schools bring wreaths for the wreath ceremony.”

The group did a drive-by at the Iwo Jima statue and “saw the way the flag seemed to be in motion as we drove around the statue,” Negro said, and a group photo was taken at the Air Force Memorial with the D.C. skyline in the background.

The group returned to Baltimore for dinner and drove back to the hotel.

“What a lot of memories packed into the day,” Negro said. “We met a lot of great people. There was a high school prom going on at the hotel, and all of the young people lined up and made way for the vets and showed their respect to them.”

Following Sunday morning brunch, everyone went their separate ways to return home.

“Bob was impressed with a veteran from Chicago that we visited with at brunch,” Carol Negro said. “They were both born in 1930 in February, and they both served in the Navy during the same time.

“It was an unforgettable trip, and we were so proud of our country after seeing the memorials and the special way that the people treated the veterans.”

“They made all the veterans feel like we were somebody,” Bob added. “One of the veterans commented that he never felt like he was a ‘somebody’ until now.”

Veterans on the Honor Flight were told to spread the word back home, even in states that no longer offer the flight.

“They stated that Montana and Wyoming no longer had a hub  and that veterans could request a trip from other states,” Negro said, adding that he received calls from both Utah and Ohio inviting him to accompany groups. The timing of the Ohio group was better, he said.

“So many people came up to the veterans with handshakes and hugs, thanking us for our service,” Negro said. “Our name tags had ‘Lone Eagle’ under our name as Wyoming is no longer a hub.”

By David Peck