By RENEE PRUSI
Journal Staff Writer
ESCANABA - Finally, it was Rene Lippens' turn.
Above, Rene Lippens, 86, of Gladstone gets his Upper Peninsula Honor Flight backpack from volunteer Debbie Wickstrom of the Island Resort and Casino early in the morning of May 14. At left, After a busy day in Washington, D.C., Rene Lippens, right, and his guardian for the trip, Dave Wilson, arrive at Reagan National AIrport with the rest of the U.P. Honor Flight contingent. (Journal photos by Renee Prusi)
After being at the airport to welcome home the five previous missions of Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, this time Lippens was one of the veterans making the trip.
"For all the (past) flights, he's been there for homecoming, to welcome the veterans back in," said Sally Guay, an Honor Flight volunteer. "It is wonderful he was on the flight this time. He's such a nice, sweet man."
Lippens, who grew up in Saint Nicholas in Delta County, was one of the Korean War veterans who made the trip to Washington, D.C., May 14. The first five flights were mainly World War II veterans, but the sixth mission was mostly people who served during the Korean action.
The Honor Flight trip is offered to these veterans at no cost to them. Each veteran is paired with a guardian who pays to make the journey and sees to the veteran's needs during a busy, history-filled one-day trip to Washington.
"I went in the service in 1951," Lippens said. "I was drafted and went into the Army. I left the states in January, went to Japan and then Korea."
For the U.P. born and bred 23-year-old, Korea was a huge change.
"It was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter," said Lippens, now 86. "The monsoon season was both spring and fall."
After about a year in Korea, Lippens returned stateside.
"When I was released from the service, I went to Grand Rapids for a year or two and worked for Harnischfeger," he said. "Then I came back here and sold insurance for a five or six years. I was in construction after that."
What he has been for many, many years is an advocate for veterans.
"I guess I am a pretty active person," Lippens said in great understatement.
Among the groups he is involved with are the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the VFW, the Marine Corps League and the Amvets. He's also part of his local veterans' council.
"I am also chair of the Vet of the Year program for the U.P.," Lippens said of the award given annually at the U.P. State Fair. "I look forward to seeing all the veterans who come to that each year."
And other veterans appreciate Lippens.
"Rene's main priority in life is looking out for other veterans," said Dave Wilson, who served in Vietnam.
Wilson was guardian to Lippens during Honor Flight.
"Rene does something every day to help other veterans," Wilson said. "He uses his resources and he is awesome at what he does.
"Rene knows how to get things done."
Wilson said the Honor Flight Mission VI experience was his second with the program. He accompanied two veterans on the inaugural flight in 2011.
"It was wonderful being Rene's guardian. He's so personable," Wilson said. "He genuinely likes people and was talking to everyone."
Wilson's sister, Pam Sardelis, surprised Lippens at the World War II Memorial.
"She came to see him and brought him some gifts," he said. "Everyone likes Rene."
As the flight came to a close, Lippens was smiling ear to ear.
"The flight was good. Real good," he said. "It was great meeting all the different people. It was all terrific."
U.P. Honor Flight's Mission VII is set for Sept. 4, and the odds are probably pretty good when it returns from a busy day in Washington, D.C., one person in particular will be there to welcome the contingent back: Rene Lippens.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.