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Honor Flight great experience for local World War II veteran

Orin Petersen grew up milking cows in Homestead Township before serving in World War II. Recently he went to Washington D.C. as part of the WW II Honor Flight.

Orin Petersen had a blast on his recent Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. and wants other WWII vets to experience the same.

Petersen, along with 95 other WWII vets from around the region, was part of the Northern Valley Honor Flight out of Grand Forks and the latest to take part in the unique opportunity to visit the D.C. memorials.

Orin, 86, said the weekend visit to see the D.C. memorials on April 17-18 was well worth the trip, but it was the return home that had just as much of an impact.

Orin Petersen grew up milking cows in Homestead Township before serving in World War II. Recently he went to Washington D.C. as part of the World War II Honor Flight.

"I think what impressed me the most was the band playing welcoming us home when we came back," he says of their return flight into Grand Forks.

When the veterans stepped off the plane back in Grand Forks, Orin says there were 300 people there to greet them, along with the band.

"Many times I had tears in my eyes. Very sentimental, that was, he said."

Orin grew up milking cows outside of New York Mills in Homestead Township. He went to Country School #186, about 10 miles northeast of town, through the 8th grade. The old school is now the Homestead Township Hall.

He later joined the service and was in the Army at the end of World War II from January 1945 to December 1946.

Orin finished his training and was prepared to be a part of the United States' planned invasion of Japan.

Fortunately for him, things changed.

"I trained for Japan and the war ended, so I got sent to Korea", he says. "We were just getting ready to go to Japan when they dropped the bomb."

Orin says had the U.S. invaded Japan it would have been a bloodbath; and by dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and later Nagasaki, it saved a lot of American soldiers' lives.

"We were just weeks away from going to Japan. They announced it over the loud speaker and everybody hollered," Orin recalls. "We knew damn well it saved us from going over. It would have been a bloody mess. I was pretty lucky."

Getting to experience the Honor Flight with fellow World War II vets was special for Orin, and to see all the memorials in D.C. was the chance of a lifetime made possible by the Honor Flight.

Does he think other WW II vets from the New York Mills area should do the same?

"I know they should," he says. "It didn't cost us one penny. The trip was all paid for by donations and it doesn't cost the government anything."

The veterans were busy from the time they stepped on the plane headed to Washington, D.C. to their return to Grand Forks.

Orin said shortly after they were up in the air to start the trip, someone hollered, "Mail call!" The veterans were all handed cards sent to them by elementary students.

"We all got a charge out of that. It was very considerate of those kids," he says. "I wrote them a letter back telling them if they ever came to New York Mills to look me up."

When the 96 veterans and their escorts arrived in D.C., they were bused to see the sights.

Orin was immediately impressed with the size of the monuments and memorials, and how everything stands for something in the World War II Memorial.

The WW II monument covers nearly eight acres. There is a pillar and water spout representing each state and three U.S. territories. There are hundreds of stars placed in the memorial, with one star for every 100 Americans killed in combat.

The memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S. during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions who supported the war effort from home.

"It really hits you when you see that," Orin recalls.

Some of the more memorable moments of the trip include the Lincoln Memorial, changing of the guard, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, and Vietnam Wall.

"I walked up the 100 steps to see old Abe," the 86-year-old Petersen says. "I don't know if that was such a good idea. It was worse coming down for some reason."

Orin has nothing but good to say about the trip and how much it meant to him and the other veterans.

"Everything was arranged so good. It was just perfect," he says. "And when we were walking around the monuments, people greeted us and thanked us for our service. That surprised me."

Orin signed up for the Honor Flight about a year and a half ago and really wants to encourage more of the local WW II vets to get signed up, and take advantage of this great opportunity.

After completing his year in the military, Orin returned home to the New York Mills area where he farmed from 1946-1994. He married his wife Dorothy in 1952, and the couple had six children - one boy and five girls - and they have five grandchildren.

Orin and Dorothy live in New York Mills and Orin says he is proud to be a lifetime member of the V.F.W.