Tom Nightingale met a fellow U.S. Marine at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington on Tuesday.
The two were in the same platoon in the war, and they got rubbings at the wall of the names of six soldiers in their platoon who died in combat.
Then they had a beer together.
Nightingale, 74, was a Marine sergeant from 1966-69. He is one of 220 veterans who made the jaunt to Washington this year with VetsRoll. Twenty World War II veterans and 45 Korean War veterans, who are 85 and older, were among those on the free trip.
A convoy of buses left Beloit on Sunday. The group returned Wednesday night to a hardy crowd of friends, family and other supporters waiting for them outside the Eclipse Center in a steady rain.
Nightingale, a Beloit native, said he witnessed the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. He also viewed the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
“It’s probably one of the greatest opportunities that a veteran can have,” Nightingale said Wednesday night on the bus ride home.
Peggy Hirschberg, 85, from Milton, said she was flabbergasted Wednesday night.
“It’s thrilling,” she said. “I’m very emotional.”
In the summer of 1952, Hirschberg assembled TNT bombs in Nebraska. She made $1.29 an hour for her work—a good-paying job at the time, she said.
Hirschberg’s second husband, Erwin Hirschberg, was a World War II veteran. He died of cancer in 2000 and wasn’t able to see the “fabulous” and “beautiful” monuments, Peggy said.
“He’s riding on my shoulder, I feel like,” she said.
Doris Arneson was one of so many women, later symbolized by “Rosie the Riveter,” who helped during World War II by producing war supplies back home.
Arneson, 83, lives in Milton. She collected milkweed pods in the town of Lima in the late 1940s and flattened tin cans for the war effort.
This year’s VetsRoll was the first trek to America’s capital for Arneson and her husband, Phil Arneson, a Korean War veteran.
On the bus, Doris said the couple likely wouldn’t have been able to make the trip on their own. She said they particularly enjoyed the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“So many times you just see pictures of them,” Doris said of the airplanes. “These were the real McCoys.”
Nightingale said veterans on the trip have built lasting friendships. He said they were assisted by volunteers at every turn and that he was thanked countless times along the journey, from the memorials to their restaurant stops.
“I just think there’s a lot of healing involved in it, too, for the vets,” Nightingale said. “I know I feel different.”
He added, “This is the way our country should be run right now. Respect for each other.”