Serving as Honor Flight Northern Colorado guardian was a life-changing experience for Windsor High School football star |

Serving as Honor Flight Northern Colorado guardian was a life-changing experience for Windsor High School football star

James Redmond

In three days Windsor High School senior Landon Schmidt, 18, went from football player walking out under gridiron lights on a Friday to walking over a Washington, D.C., tarmac escorting World War II veterans on a Sunday.

Going on Honor Flight Northern Colorado's 15th biannual trip Sept. 13 was a dream come true for Schmidt, who holds veterans in high esteem.

Last year, of his own volition, he took it upon himself to collect donations for the Honor Flight program and managed to raise $2,100. He proudly presented the check to the organization during the school's Veteran's Day ceremony last year.

More than half a year later he actually got to go on one of the trips.

When Schmidt has time, he frequents Windsor's Good Samaritan Society — Water Valley Senior Living Resort where he can spend time with people three and four times his age. He likes hearing their stories, learning how people lived more than half a century ago, he said Monday.

He especially likes hearing from those who served in the military. It's his passion.

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That same passion that drove Schmidt to fundraise for Honor Flight, then spurred him to ask to go along as a guardian. He wanted the chance to give back to the veterans who had shared so much with him. And he wanted to hear their stories.

However, as a minor at the time he couldn't go.

"I asked if I could go, at that time I was 17, and they said no, I couldn't go, which I thought I was understandable," Schmidt said. "But I just kept nagging and nagging," he said with a smile.

He turned 18 and they said if his dad went with him he could go. He wasted no time and found himself a guardian on the September trip.

It's not every high-school senior whose favorite hobbies include spending time with veterans. However, Schmidt likes being more than just a "football star," as his principal calls him.

"Landon Schmidt is a one-of-a-kind kid," said Windsor High School Principal Michelle Scallon. "He spends his free time visiting with WWII Vets."

She remembers he took the time to attend a dance for World War II vets and when she asked him how it went, "he told me he 'made a lot of new friends.'"

Scallon smiles and almost cannot seem to say enough good things about the student, who also plays basketball and runs track.

"Landon is genuine," she said. "He is the real deal."

His enthusiasm and passion for working with veterans makes him stand out.

"He's a very impressive kid," Stan Cass, president of Northern Colorado Honor Flight, said remembering Schmidt.

Schmidt did a super job as a guardian on the trip, he said.

He was assigned as a guardian to a World War II veteran.

"He was always talking to them," Cass said with a chuckle. "He got a lot of ammunition for some good stories."

When the Honor Flight trip finally came earlier this month, Schmidt and his dad went down to Island Grove in Greeley for the send-off ceremony before heading to the airport. Escorted by the Freedom Riders on the way to the airport, they saw people on overpasses waiving American flags. Upon landing in D.C. they were greeting be even more people waving flags and shaking hands with tears in their eyes, Schmidt said.

"It was the neatest experience I've ever had," he said.

It was emotional and life changing for Schmidt. He had heard so many stories, but going on the honor flight and visiting the memorials with the veterans made those stories feel real for him, he said.

Many of the veterans cried as they saw the monuments and remembered their service, Schmidt said. He admits he shed a tear or two himself when the veterans relived some of their experiences with him.

It was a fulfilling experience, one that galvanized him. He's doing the fundraiser again this year and wants it to become a tradition, hopefully carrying on for years after he graduates.

Some of the veterans told Schmidt they hadn't talked about parts of the war until they shared it with him. They told him his passion and interest made them feel comfortable sharing, he said.

"They've held it back for 70 years and now they're starting to talk about it," he said.

The Honor Flight program is important, Schmidt said. Listening to the veterans share their stories with each other, the pain and sadness the veterans endured became obvious, he said. On the trip they could share those feelings.

Going on the flight, supporting the veterans and seeing what that care can mean to them is something everyone should experience, Schmidt said.

"I've met some lifelong friends," he said. "One even tried to come to my football game on Friday."

This year’s fundraiser

Windsor High School senior Landon Schmidt decided to continue his work supporting Honor Flight Northern Colorado.

He’s fundraising again this year and has already started putting together the push for this year.

Anyone in the community who wants to help can donate to the fundraiser by dropping of check made out to “The Community Foundation” at the main office of Windsor High School, 1100 Main St, Windsor.

Schmidt hopes the fundraiser becomes a tradition at the high school.

“I’ve made it my mission, I’ve told (Principal Michelle) Scallon and everyone that when I’m gone I want you guys to make it a yearly tradition,” he said.

Each year few veterans from wars past are alive to make the Honor Flight trip, Schmidt said. With so little time left, it becomes even more important to take the time now, while it can still matter, to help and support those veterans, he said.