Veterans connect on Honor Flight

WWII vet and Vietnam-era vet forge friendship on trip to nation’s capital

Jude Phelps, 9, of Ringwood, and Allison Krenke, 10, of Madison, Wisconsin, hold up a sign welcoming back their grandfather, Barry Phelps, at the Honor Flight Ceremony Aug. 27.

Barry Phelps is a Vietnam War-era veteran. John Rickerd fought in World War II. Both of them were on this year’s Honor Flight that departed from McHenry High School and became friends over the course of the trip.

Phelps, a substitute teacher at McHenry High, said he discovered the ROTC in 1965. He joined the Air Force, which he called “a fortunate decision.”

He served in the military during the Vietnam War. He didn’t go to Vietnam, but he said he still felt like military personnel in general were “despised” during that time.

“There was no ‘welcome home,’ ” Phelps said.

Rickerd fought in World War II in Japan, starting his military career in the Navy before later joining the Marines.

The military helped both Phelps and Rickerd get their college educations.

Phelps started off at Michigan Tech and then transferred to the University of Iowa, participating in the ROTC program at both schools.

Barry Phelps and John Rickerd on this year's Honor Flight. Phelps invited Rickerd to share his experiences in WWII with McHenry High School students.

“I was fortunate that Iowa had ROTC,” Phelps said.

Rickerd used the G.I. Bill to attend Bowling Green State University near his hometown of Toledo, Ohio.

“I took advantage of the schooling after I got home,” Rickerd said.

During college, he met his late wife, Elaine.

Rickerd said he previously had been invited to go on an Honor Flight but held off because his wife wasn’t in good health. This year, he went on the trip shortly after she passed away.

“It was a good diversion for him,” his daughter Laurie said.

Rickerd said his favorite part of the trip was visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

“I was very, very honored to be asked to go on this Honor Flight,” Rickerd said.

Phelps called his Honor Flight experience “the trip of a lifetime.”

Phelps’ daughter, Nikki Krenke, accompanied him on the trip.

“I have been to Washington, D.C., before, but my dad had not been prior to the Honor Flight,” Krenke wrote in an email. “It was really special to see it through his eyes, as well as see the pride all of the men and women on the trip felt at being recognized for their service everywhere we went and to see themselves represented at the memorials.”

Phelps, through his work at the school, helps to organize a panel each year around Veterans Day, where veterans visit the school and share their experiences with students.

This year, Phelps invited the Honor Flight participants to join him on the panel, personally recruiting three attendees, including Rickerd.

Phelps said there were two buses during the Honor Flight. He was on one and Rickerd was on the other during the trip, but Phelps said he “made it a point to introduce myself,” noting that he told Rickerd about his father being a fellow WWII veteran.

Both Phelps and Rickerd thought the trip was amazing. Rickerd was very positive about the people who helped to put the trip together.

“It was just a wonderful homecoming,” Rickerd said.

An earlier version of this story had Barry Phelps serving in the Navy. He served in the Air Force.

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