Veterans wait on the government's pleasure
The Plainview (Texas) Daily Herald
“Hurry up and wait,” is a phrase familiar to military men and women, and it’s holding true right now for an area World War II veteran and the daughter of a Vietnam-era soldier as they wait to hear whether longed-for trips to Washington, D.C., will happen or not.
R.L. Owens, 93, served in the Army on the island of New Guinea during World War II, fighting alongside Australians against the Japanese forces. A Purple Heart recipient, he nearly lost his life in service to his country when wading through a river under enemy fire.
An explosion hit a log in front of him, and a piece of shrapnel flew up his nose.
“It could have been my eye,” Owens remarked.
To this day, he has trouble breathing, and medical people have trouble inserting tubes through his nose, said his daughter, Sherita Hatch.
Owens and Hatch were scheduled to go on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans during the week of Oct. 16. Owens was excited about the opportunity to see the memorials, but also to visit with other WWII veterans.
All of Owens’ buddies from World War II have passed on, and only one widow is left for him to correspond with.
“There are so few – there are not many of them left,” Hatch said.
While everything is ready for the Honor Flight to take place, the government shutdown, which Owens and Hatch were anticipating Monday afternoon and which occurred Tuesday, closed many of the memorials and monuments the group was scheduled to visit.
As of 4:05 Tuesday afternoon, Doreen Renfroe, office manager for the Plainview Herald, had not heard whether her father, a Vietnam veteran, was going to be able to take a flight with a New Mexico group.
Nilo Montanez, 67, along with his daughter Donna Parker, was scheduled to meet a group in Las Cruces and travel from there to El Paso, where they would board a plane and fly to the nation’s capital.
Montanez was particularly interested in seeing The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. His cousin, Mike Montanez, is one of those named on The Wall.
“He particularly wanted to see that. He was so excited,” Renfroe said.
The Montanez cousins met and visited once during the war in Quinn Yan, Vietnam. After Mike Montanez was killed, the Army wanted Nilo Montanez to escort the body back to the U.S., but he felt unable to do so.
“I guess, too much emotion,” Renfroe said.
Renfroe is uncertain of the number of medals her father earned during the war, but she knows that her brothers replaced some of them that had been damaged in anticipation of the trip.
Owens, who still lives in his own home, is looking forward to another event. On Nov. 9, Hatch said, Purple Heart veterans will be honored with a parade in Lubbock with a police escort and an honor guard. The event will culminate with the veterans attending a Texas Tech football game.
Owens was involved in the Battle of Buna in New Guinea, a long-lasting, hard-fought battle that riddled the soldiers with disease.
“We all had malaria,” Owens said.
Water was inescapable in the jungle, and soldiers sometimes lashed themselves to trees or to one another on a hillside in order to keep from drowning during the night.
At one point, a fellow soldier asked Owens how he remained so calm.
“I’m not calm,” Owens said. “I’m praying.”
Owens had many careers during his life including soldier, grocery store clerk and pastor. He gives glory to God for his children who keep in touch, Meals on Wheels, Faye Harlen who comes in and cuts his hair and the people from First Assembly of God that pick him up and take him to church.
With such an outlook, there is little doubt that he will stay upbeat despite a missed trip.
Renfroe, however, doesn’t have much patience with the nation’s leaders.
“That government ought to kiss and make up and get these things going for us!” she said.