Actually, the 87-year-old Fox Point man took a trip to Washington, D.C. via the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. But, as a World War II veteran, the sight of the World War II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and other national monuments also stirred memories of his 1944 flight to Germany, where he served as an air crewman in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
A student at Shorewood High School, Polacheck was only 17 years old when his parents enlisted him in the Army. Now, at the age of 87, he still remembers witnessing the Nuremberg Trials, visiting Adolf Hitler’s Eagle's Nest and other historic moments from World War II.
Polacheck also has some grisly memories, like the time he saw a German railcar containing thousands of human bones.
“There were thousands of bones in that car, and when I multiplied that by the hundreds of railcars…I realized I was seeing a small fraction of what Hell was like,” he said.
Polacheck was one of 111 veterans – including 95 World War II vets – who participated in the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight on Sept. 21. To date, 2,785 veterans have taken a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight since its inception in the fall of 2008.
"I think all of us that went on it were overwhelmed," Polacheck said. "There's not too many WWII vets that are still around, so we realize we're at the end of our road. To have this kind of experience was a wonderful thing."
Despite all the historical monuments he saw in D.C., Polacheck said one of the most memorable moments came when he arrived at General Mitchell International Airport, where hundreds of people were waiting for the veterans and holding signs thanking them for their service..
Polacheck's Honor Flight guardian was Chuck Taft, an eighth grade history teacher at University School of Milwaukee. Taft said the homecoming at Mitchell was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
"The veterans were so humble in accepting the thanks of all of the crowd, and it was such a fitting end to a day full of tribute for this group of Americans that put their lives aside for their country, did their job –and did it so well – and returned back to life without looking for any congratulations or honors," Taft said.