A 94-year-old Freeland Army veteran is one of the latest recipients of an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to see the memorials erected in honor of him and other veterans.
Conrad Von Doran served in the army for 25 years over the course of three wars, earning accolades such as the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He has now been retired from the military for more than twice as long as he served and will be one among a group of veterans taking an “Honor Flight” this weekend.
Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit which brings World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to Washington D.C. to tour various monuments and locations of military significance. Von Doran’s trip takes place May 14-16.
Puget Sound Honor Flight, the network’s local hub, has made 28 trips to Washington D.C. and honored more than 1,200 veterans living in western Washington to date.
Von Doran, whose daughter connected him with the Honor Flight program, said he is most excited to see how the city has changed; he lived in Washington D.C. briefly while working for the Pentagon near the end of his military career, but it has been several decades since he was last there.
The Honor Flight trip will provide him an opportunity to reflect on the military career that he loved, and which he said shaped who he is today.
“It seemed like it was just the other day, but it’s been, now let’s see, fifty-some odd years since I retired,” he said.
Von Doran joined the army at the tail end of World War II. Born in Minnesota and raised in Michigan, he finished high school in three and a half years and joined the Army the day after graduation. It was June of 1945, and fighting in the Pacific Theater was nearing a close.
After an Army-sponsored semester at Michigan State College, Von Doran attended basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., followed by Infantry Officer Candidate School. He graduated in August 1946 as a second lieutenant at 18 years old.
Von Doran’s military career took him all over the world. Shortly after finishing officer candidate school, he was transferred to the Philippines, where he served as a military police officer in Manila, and then on to Okinawa, Japan.
In 1948, he returned to the U.S. to attend college and the Army Airborne School to qualify as a parachutist. He returned to active duty around three years later, and was eventually transferred to Korea as a rifle company commander.
By this time, the Korean War was in full swing. About six months after arriving in Korea, he was wounded by artillery fire in his foot, knee and arm.
“I still have some shrapnel in my arm,” he said.
His memories of being wounded are fuzzy — all he recalls is being evacuated by helicopter to a local field hospital, where he spent 10 days before returning to his unit. The fighting in Korea ended shortly afterward, and he spent the rest of his tour in Korea as an assistant regimental operations officer.
After another stint in Okinawa, Von Doran was transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, “which I thought was my best tour of duty,” he said.
What made the 82nd Airborne Division so wonderful, he explained, was that it was an all-volunteer unit. No one in the division had been drafted or forced to join but were all there of their own volition, which made for a special group.
A period in Stuttgart, Germany followed, where Von Doran was promoted to major in March 1961, before eventually going to work at the Pentagon as a public information officer.
His job at the Pentagon took him all over the country on various special assignments, which he enjoyed greatly, he said, but not long after he began working there, the U.S. entered the Vietnam War.
In the summer of 1966, he volunteered for an assignment to Vietnam. As a military officer, he needed to fulfill certain assignments, for which a tour in Vietnam would qualify. More than that, he had already been in combat and knew his experience would be valuable.
Von Doran retired from the military in 1970, but that would not be the end of his service to his community. After working as an administrator at a community college in California for just shy of two decades, he and his wife moved to Whidbey Island, where his mother-in-law lived.
During his years on Whidbey, he has given himself to volunteer service in many capacities with organizations such as Readiness to Learn, the Boy Scouts of America and others. He served as a hospice volunteer, spending time with other veterans receiving end of life care. As a Master Gardener, he has provided service at Meerkerk Gardens near Greenbank. Until the COVID-19 pandemic began, he was active in St. Hubert’s church in Langley.
“I am a firm believer in being a community worker,” he said. “I told my wife, ‘I’m not going to go sit on the front porch and watch the world go on.’”
His honor flight trip began bright and early Saturday morning — he had to be at the airport at 5 a.m., which, he said with a laugh, reminded him of being in the military. On the trip, he and other veterans will visit the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, the Navy, Army and Air Force monuments, the Lincoln monument and Arlington National Cemetery.