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Honor Flight

EAAers fly a hero home for the holidays

Josh Wege
LCPL Josh Wege, second from left, and his brother, Joe, pictured with their flight crew David Lau (far left) and Sean Elliott (far right) upon arrival from Maryland at Oshkosh. Photos by Bonnie Kratz.

Josh Wege
Safe and sound - Josh Wege gets a welcome home hug from his grandmother, Arlyss Purchatzke, after arriving at EAA’s Weeks Hangar in Oshkosh. Also pictured are his grandfather Bryan Purchatzke, brother Joe, and sister Jessica Grede. In back are EAA’s Sean Elliott and Tom Poberezny.

December 22, 2009 — On a very special general aviation flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Wittman Regional (OSH) late last week, an aircraft’s call sign was temporarily changed from N700PW to “Hero Flight Zero Papa Whiskey.” That well-suited identifier honored a wounded Marine who was being flown back home to Wisconsin for the holidays from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The flight came courtesy of Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), with EAA director David Lau and EAA Director of Flight Operations Sean Elliott in the cockpit of Lau’s Socata TBM 700.

This past October 4, Lance Corporal Josh Wege, a 19-year-old MP from Campbellsport, Wisconsin, was in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, riding with six others in a light armored vehicle. Suddenly they hit an improvised explosive device (IED) packed with an estimated 80 pounds of powder. Josh and two other soldiers were injured, but his injuries were the worst - the blast claimed both of Wege’s feet and both ankles.

“I tried getting out and I couldn’t, and I was wondering why, so I lifted myself up and looked down and it was all tattered clothing,” he said. A U.S. Navy corpsman who was along for the ride quickly attended to his injuries by applying tourniquets, saving his life.

After a stay at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, Josh was transferred to Walter Reed for rehabilitation with his new prosthetic devices. Now he’s back home, thanks to the flight provided by the VAC, a non-profit organization based in Minnesota.

“What can you say, it was a real privilege to fly Josh and his brother (Joe) back home in time for Christmas,” Lau said. “It’s truly an honor. I can’t imagine a better Christmas present for myself than this.”

Lau and Elliott flew to BWI on Friday, just ahead of the snowstorm that blanketed the Eastern Seaboard last weekend (the storm hit about 12 hours after their departure), picked up Josh and his brother Joe, then returned to Oshkosh. Air traffic controllers throughout the flight assigned them the call sign “Honor Flight Zero Papa Whiskey.”

Signature Flight Service at BWI waived the ramp fee and provided a fuel discount for the flight back to Wisconsin.

When the aircraft arrived at Wittman and taxied to EAA’s Kermit Weeks Hangar, Josh’s grandparents and sister were there to welcome him home. EAA President Tom Poberezny was also on hand to greet the flight.

“This flight was a perfect example of why general aviation and private aviation are so important,” Elliott said. “Picking up this young man and bringing him home to his family for the holidays in a matter of hours literally could not happen on an airliner.”

Josh, a 2008 graduate of Winnebago Lutheran Academy in Fond du Lac, calls his prosthetic devices “beginner legs.” He’ll be home for about three weeks, then will return to Walter Reed for more rehabilitation. He said his goal is to play softball again.

“I plan on staying with the Marines for my five-year commitment and I’d go back to Afghanistan if they’d let me,” Wege said.

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