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Air Force


1965 - 1989


Sr. Master Sergeant


Of the thousands of Veterans Memorials across America, some of the most striking can be found in our Nation’s Capitol. Helping to ensure Veterans have an opportunity to experience the Memorials that honor them is the mission of the Honor Flight Network. Prioritizing aging and critically ill Veterans, the organization takes those who served from across the country to Washington D.C. to tour their memorials.

One of those Veterans who recently took the Midwest Honor Flight was Sr. Master Sargeant E8 Chuck Schilling. Chuck served 24 years in the Air Force, with much of that career involved with the Nation’s nuclear program. He fixed and maintained equipment and facilities and acted as an instructor for missile trainers and simulators at various locations, including Ellsworth Air Force Base, Malstrom Air Force Base and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Having retired from the Air Force in 1989, Chuck parlayed his Air Force experience into a second successful career as a mechanical engineering technician at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. In that role, Chuck met Garry Black who acted as Chuck’s Guardian on his Honor Flight in May 2023. Garry is also a military Veteran, having served 17 years with the South Dakota Army National Guard and four years in the Army Reserve.

Elsie Honors Mission 15 hosted 83 Veterans and 31 Guardians. The Mission started in Sioux Falls, SD, in the early hours, 0330, of May 31. Upon arrival at the airport, the group was brought to attention and given its final mission – to go to Washington D.C. to tour the memorials. Among the 83 Veterans were service members from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. The flight included one WWII veteran, Korean and Vietnam War Veterans and one female Veteran.

When they landed in Washington D.C., the Honor Flight was greeted at the gate by American Airlines staff and passengers in the terminal with lots of cheers, clapping and welcome signs. From there, the group boarded buses bound for Arlington National Cemetery, with a stop at the Marine Corps Monument enroute . At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Veterans had a front-row viewing of the Changing of the Guard. The inspection the incoming guard underwent in order to take his post was impressive, making a strong impression on Chuck. “The dedication to duty would be an understatement for the whole thing. They take 21 steps marching across the tomb, they wait 21 seconds to turn about and march back again across the tomb. It is equivalent to the 21-gun salute.”

Amazed at the pace of the day, the Honor Flight attendees toured the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Navy monument and the Air Force monument. Especially meaningful at the WWII Memorial, children presumably on end-of-the-school-year field trips thanked the Veterans for their service. Three young ladies approached Chuck and said thank you for your service and asked what he did while in the service– he was impressed and grateful for their sentiments. On the flight home, the Veterans also received “Mail Call”, a packet containing letters from children and others from across the Nation who expressed their gratitude for the Veterans’ service.

At many of the memorials and monuments, the soldiers represented were larger than life, depicted 1.5 to two or more times larger than a regular person. In addition, most of the statues honored the common soldier, “grunts” as Chuck put it. At every turn at every memorial, service persons were honored and respected.

Two of the Memorials stood out most to Chuck. Considering his 24 years of Air Force service, Chuck especially appreciated the Air Force Memorial. Dedicated in 2006, the Memorial features the missing man burst and an honor guard. The Vietnam Wall was the most moving of the memorials for both Master Sargeant Schilling and Mr. Black. Chuck had many friends who served in the Army in Vietnam, and the scale of the wall and its 50,000 service members lost create an emotional experience for those who view it. He recalled a lady helping people find names of their loved ones on the wall, and she went all the way to the top of the wall to trace the name of a visitor’s service person. Garry added that it stood out to him just how quiet and solemn it was around the Vietnam Memorial.

For Chuck, the most emotional part of the trip was the arrival back home in Sioux Falls that night of May 31. Some 500 people had gathered late in the evening to welcome the Honor Flight home. The greeters held banners and posters, clapping and cheering to provide a welcome home that many military members did not receive when they returned from service decades ago. To complete the day, the Veterans were brought to attention and relieved of their duties. They each received a framed plaque and given an honorable discharge from Honor Flight. For many, it’s almost impossible to put into words the catharsis and healing this experience brings to the Nation’s Veterans who all deserve our honor, respect and deepest gratitude. Thank you, Veterans, for your service.

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