It was previously Edward Johnson’s choice not to take an Honor Flight seat he deserved. That was until UnityPoint Health – Waterloo President & CEO Pam Delagardelle presented an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Johnson is an 88-year-old who volunteers at Allen Hospital three days a week. Delagardelle seeks to have connections with colleagues like Johnson, and it led to a convincing proposal.
“Pam and I were in the cafeteria one day, and we were discussing an upcoming Honor Flight,” Johnson says. “She told me how important she thought it would be for me to go on the trip. I listened and after a while, I told her I’d go ? if she went along with me.”
Johnson, who served in the Navy from 1947-1955, got to work planning the trip for the pair.
“It’s unbelievable to me. Pam dropped her guard as a CEO to go along with me. She’s such a nice lady, well-mannered and respectful. Even on the flight, she didn’t want me to tell people who she was, as far as her title at the hospital,” Johnson says.
While this flight was very special to Johnson, it was also special to Delagardelle, who lost her father, also a veteran, in 2017. Right before he passed away, he was able to take an Honor Flight with his son, Delagardelle’s brother.
“My dad was critically ill before his Honor Flight but made a rally to go on the trip, and I feel like it completed him,” Delagardelle said. “Sharing that experience and enjoying the camaraderie with fellow veterans was exactly what he was meant to do at that time.”
Delagardelle and Johnson flew out of the Waterloo Regional Airport September 25, 2018 en route to the nation’s capital where monuments stand to honor the sacrifices men and women have made for our country.
“I never realized Arlington National Cemetery was as large as it is. This time, I did. It’s really huge,” Johnson says.
Johnson has turned down previous Honor Flight opportunities because he’s never wanted to take a seat from another veteran. While Johnson had been to the D.C. area before, this time was different.
“I really enjoyed the sendoffs we got from Iowa and Baltimore,” Johnson says. “When we left Baltimore to head home, there was a group of soldiers, maybe six or eight men, standing there to wish us well as we boarded the plane. These guys were going out of the country to do things many of us veterans had already done. They were in the airport and heard we were leaving and wanted to come over and send us off before they went on with their assignments.”
“Watching Edward connect and share stories with other veterans was very emotional and uplifting,” Delagardelle adds. “Seeing that makes you really understand the sacrifices made by every man and woman who served.”
Johnson enjoyed meeting with a retired general and a World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Corp. And he spent time with another Allen Hospital volunteer, Veryl Buchholz, who also took the flight. Both Buchholz and Johnson were amazed to see a bundle of letters from their hospital colleagues during the mail call on the plane.
“Next month, I will have 18 years of volunteer service at the hospital, and I think it’s just a part of me. I don’t force myself to do this job. I wake up and want to do the job. I’m no doctor, no nurse, I don’t go around drawing blood or anything like that. But I can push people around in a wheelchair. Here at the hospital, we have a camaraderie. We all work together for the good, and that’s what I like,” Johnson says.
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