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Local Korean veteran embarks on Honor Flight

WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington man was among 85 veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., last week as part of Midwest Honor Flight's inaugural trip. Leo Pool, who served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957, was accompanied by his son, John, on the da...

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Leo Pool of Worthington stands amid the Korean Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the Midwest Honor Flight's first mission to take veterans to view their memorials in the capital city. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - A Worthington man was among 85 veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., last week as part of Midwest Honor Flight’s inaugural trip.

Leo Pool, who served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957, was accompanied by his son, John, on the day-long journey that departed from Sioux Falls, S.D., at 5 a.m. Aug. 22 and returned at 8:30 that evening to a crowd of cheering people, including members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group.

“To me, getting off the airplane in Sioux Falls - the welcome we got there was just about as good as the rest of the trip,” Pool said. “It was almost breathtaking.”

On a hot and humid day in Washington, Pool and fellow veterans, guardians and staff filled four tour buses and had a police escort throughout the day. They visited the Air Force, World War II, Korean, Vietnam and FDR memorials, watched the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and drove by the Marine Corps Memorial, World War I memorial and the White House.

Pool had visited Washington, D.C., in 1956, while he was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He and a fellow soldier from Minnesota were clad in their Army uniforms when they decided to go visit then-Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s office.

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“He visited with us for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Pool recalled, noting that about a decade later, while he was working in the pressroom at the Daily Globe, he had a second encounter with Humphrey at King Turkey Day.

“I was dirty and grimy from working in the pressroom, and I told him I was in his office in 1956 in Washington,” Pool shared. “He said, ‘You were in the Army, weren’t you?’”

Humphrey’s recollection of the visit impressed Pool.

The son of a World War II veteran, Pool enlisted in the Army in 1955 believing that if he didn’t, he’d eventually be drafted. He was 19 at the time - just out of high school.

“There was no decent jobs unless you wanted to go tickle chickens at Campbell’s (Soup),” he said.

Pool completed basic training at Fort Ord, Calif., and advanced individual training in Fort Gordon, Ga. He had further training at Fort Benning Georgia before being sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds. From there, he was sent to Seattle, Wash., for deployment to South Korea.

“We went on a slow boat to China, only it went to Korea,” Pool said with a laugh. “It was a troop ship built in 1941. It was a wore-out piece of junk, but the military never has enough money.”

After a nauseating ride across the Pacific Ocean, Pool was stationed at a base somewhere between Seoul and Inchon from 1956 to 1957.

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Though his time in Korea was three years after the signing of the armistice that called an end to combat, Pool is still considered a Korean war veteran and qualified for all of the Korean GI Bill benefits. He served in the 181st Signal Company Depot and worked as a dispatcher in the motor pool, despite being trained as a mechanic.

“There was five mechanics and they wanted to know if anyone could type,” shared Pool. “I had high school typing, so I raised my hand and became the new dispatcher.

“I worked in the dispatch and did a lot of driving in Korea,” he added. His vehicle was a “deuce and a half”  - a 2½-ton truck.

After his honorable discharge, Pool returned to Nobles County, where he eventually was married and raised a family. He and wife, Mary, have five children - sons Randy, Mike, John and Lee, and daughter Pam.

Following in the family’s history of military service, son John - Pool’s guardian on the Honor Flight - served 33 years in active and military reserves. John, now living in Alabama, served in Desert Storm and returned for a tour in Iraq while in the Army. Pool also has a grandson, Aaron, who served in the Air Force.

At age 82, Pool said he enjoyed being able to see the Korean Memorial, as well as the other sites included in the Honor Flight.

“That Korean Memorial was pretty nice,” he said. “It’s kind of spooky (because) these guys are out there and their eyes, wherever you stand around that thing, you can find a set of eyes looking at ya.”

Pool submitted his application to Midwest Honor Flight less than a month before its first trip to Washington, D.C., and because there were two seats that opened up, he was able to join the group.

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Midwest Honor Flight is based in Sioux Center, Iowa, and was founded after other hubs in the region - all of which took World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. - had shut down. The organization is planning trips again in March and September 2018, and is seeking both veterans and donations to send them on the journey. The trip is free for veterans, with a focus on those in northwest Iowa, southwest Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

More information about Midwest Honor Flight can be found at midwesthonorflight.org or by calling (712) 463-2020.

“I recommend it to any veteran that hasn’t been there to get signed up to go,” Pool said.

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Leo Pool served in South Korea from 1956 to 1957, three years after the armistice was signed to stop the conflict. Here, he's shown visiting the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Special to The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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