Chaplain Dawn Accompanies Veterans to D.C.

Nov 8 2023

Dawn Balduf, a chaplain at Mercy Health – St. Charles Hospital, was interested, and finally applied in 2022. Then she waited. For months. Until April of 2023.

That’s when she was invited to be a guardian on a Flag City Honor Flight, a day-long experience accompanying a U.S. veteran to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit that funds veterans’ trips as a way to honor their military service. Flag City Honor Flight is based in Findlay, Ohio; this was its 24th mission.

Dawn had previously worked in ministry revenue cycle roles before changing employers and then pursued seminary studies. When she isn’t working at St. Charles Hospital, she’s a church pastor.

While Honor Flight covers each veteran’s cost, family members and volunteer guardians like Dawn pay their own way. They also participate in a day of training to prepare for helping vets on and off planes and buses, in and out of wheelchairs, with meals and so on.

To summarize training, Dawn says, “It’s all about patience.”

On the day of her trip, Dawn first got to know Vietnam War vet John Christen over an early breakfast at a private hangar at Toledo Express Airport on Sept. 12. They bonded over mutual acquaintances and experiences. He couldn’t believe she volunteered for the trip at her own expense.

As she puts it, “It was an honor to be able to take this trip.”

The group of 75 vets – one from World War II, 11 from the Korean War and about 63 from the Vietnam War – and guardians departed for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, then rode a chartered bus until their return that evening.

They visited the World War II Memorial, with victory pavilions for each of the Atlantic and Pacific theaters flanking a fountain. There, they ate a boxed lunch and strolled the National Mall, the capital’s hub. The group visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, walking past sculptures of patrolling servicemen and taking in a photo mural and pool of remembrance.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the iconic wall with names of the combat dead and missing and its nearby statues depicting service people, was a heart-wrenching stop for most of the group. They also motored to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which is based on the second flag-raising on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII.

Dawn learned John had already seen the memorials, but he had another reason for making the trip – he told her he wanted to be with other veterans.

“He was an Air Force mechanic at bases in Vietnam, who felt the need to share this experience with other veterans,” she shares.

Dawn, John and others also traveled to Arlington National Cemetery and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which overlooks manicured grounds with row after row of white headstones. Dawn marveled at the guards’ display of respect and precision.

“I was just awed with a sense of history, with a sense of patriotism,” she says. “I was standing there thinking I understand this country, and our ideals are worth fighting for, and I have such gratitude.”

The travelers then enjoyed dinner at the nearby Military Women’s Memorial before returning to the airport. Although they got back close to midnight due to inclement weather, family members and volunteers raucously welcomed them with applause and flag-waving.

Dawn recalls the looks of pride on the veterans’ faces. “I had tears in my eyes as I watched all of that. It was an amazing day.”

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