Memories, emotions come flooding back for Missouri veterans of Vietnam, Korea, WWII
WASHINGTON — Robert Vaughan, of Green Ridge, shook his head in disbelief as he looked through the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., last week.
"I have a piece of paper here that's got 24 names on it. Twenty died that we know of. Four were listed as missing in action, and one was captured. We know he was captured, but I don't know if he ever got to come home. I'm going to look on the wall for all these guys," he said.
Vaughan was one of 29 Vietnam veterans, along with seven Korean War and four World War II veterans, who made the trip to Washington, D.C., with Show Me Honor Flight.
The group of men and their escorts gathered at 3 a.m. in downtown Sedalia to begin the 22-hour journey. Emotions were high, and their reasons for coming varied.
"The major reason I came was I wanted to find the friends that I lost over there, but I didn't find them on the wall. I was pushing one of the World War II veterans. That was more important to me than finding them. I'll come back again sometime with my wife," said Ralph Elsea, of Sedalia, a truck driver and firefighter during the Vietnam War.
Johnnie Holem, a World War II veteran from Stover, initially didn't want to go on the trip. However, seven of his friends from church went on the Honor Flight last spring. They invited him to attend the reception, and he changed his mind.
"It put tears in my eyes. It's been a day I will never forget for the rest of my life," he said. "To associate with the people who were on that aircraft and for these folks to treat us like they have — it's awesome."
For others like Wayne Maxwell, of Windsor, this was a very personal trip. He wanted to see the Vietnam memorial with other Vietnam veterans. He got the added bonus of making the trek with his daughter, Brenda Tylar. His mission was to locate Windsor classmates William Patrick Kelly and Roy Bradley Boyd on the wall.
"It's really hard when you go to school with them," Maxwell said. "In the summertime, I'd go out to Boyd's mom and dad's house. There would be about five to six of us that were in the same class. We'd go swimming in the pond. His mom always had milk and cookies for us. We were all real close."
Boyd, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, was killed on March 29, 1969, from enemy small arms fire.
Both Glen Glidewell, of Sedalia, and Dwight Nutting, of Waynesville, had seen the traveling Vietnam Wall but had never been to the monument in the nation's capital.
"This will be my first time for all of the (war memorials). It will be a privilege to see them," Nutting said. "That's one of the things with vets, you know, they have something in common. You can talk about it." He served in the infantry on two tours in Vietnam and was hit with shrapnel 16 times during his service.
Glidewell felt he was prepared for the trip.
"I had visited the small wall, so I was pretty well braced for it. But this place right here (Arlington Cemetery), it stirred me," he said.
Vaughan kept to himself while he viewed the wall. He was an engineer in the Navy who did welding on the catapults on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. An explosion took place one night on the ship, and he had to help drag the men out of the water and put them in body bags.
"I've never seen anything like that. It kind of bothered me for a while, because one guy, he was with me. He was an electrician. He would help me while I was up there doing the catapults. He had to made sure the wiring was all dead while I was up there welding. Then after I'd get it done, he would turn it all back on," he said.
Two of the men who were killed were married and had just become fathers. One had a son and was upset because of the name his wife gave him.
"My wife named him after me, of all things. Why didn't she name him something else instead of a junior?"
Vaughan joked with him and said when he had another son, he could name him whatever he wanted. When he was killed, Vaughan thought "oh my God."
Some of the Vietnam veterans are still questioning whether their buddies survived the war or not. The reason is the men tended to know each other by nicknames instead of their real names.
Dean Eichenberger, of Saverton, was looking for his buddy "Jay." Eichenberger was injured when he was sprayed with shrapnel from a B-40 rocket. He sustained injuries to his head, shoulders, chest and leg. After he was hit, he was nicknamed "Rocketman." When he inquired about Jay, he was told his lower jaw was blown off and he was sent to Japan.
"There's a chance he made it. They sent him right to Japan where they did like reconstructive surgery," he said, but he doesn't know for sure. Even though he didn't know his real name, he searched for him on the wall.
Vietnam veteran Army combat engineer H.D. Fischer, of Sedalia, admitted he was kind of scared at first to go on the trip because he lost a lot of friends. He was glad he was able to locate all of them on the wall and pay his respects.
Show Me Honor Flight is the first hub in the nation to take Korean and Vietnam veterans to see the war memorials. Tuesday marked their 10th flight. Veterans visited the World War II and Korean War Memorials, the Vietnam Wall and Arlington Cemetery. They were not only greeted at the airport in Baltimore, they were welcomed home by about 100 people in downtown Sedalia.
"It's brought back a lot of memories. We've told a lot of war stories, heard a lot of war stories, but it's brought tears to my eyes," Holem said.
"It's not only the idea of coming here, but the idea when you meet all of these guys," said Vietnam veteran Larry Parker, of Sedalia. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about the guys that we lost and the guys that I know."
The next Honor Flight will be in the spring of 2013.