Honor Trip to DC helps Ohio veterans heal
By JACK ROONEY | The (Wooster, Ohio) Daily Record | Published: August 27, 2019
SHREVE, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Durbin Hartel, a Navy veteran who served four tours in Vietnam, wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he left Friday morning for the 2019 Holmes-Wayne Community Honor Trip to Washington, D.C.
“I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a tremendous burden off of my shoulders,” said Hartel, who grew up on a farm near Apple Creek and now lives in Guerne.
Hartel joined 23 other veterans from Wayne, Holmes and Ashland counties, each of whom was accompanied by a guardian, on the fourth annual bus trip, which is organized by the Holmes-Wayne Electric Co-op, Shreve American Legion Post 67 and Rolling Thunder Ohio Chapter 2.
Hartel, who served both as a naval aviator and as a reactor operator for four years on the USS Enterprise, said his guardian, Lisa Suttle, helped make the trip a healing experience for him.
“She really made it so it enabled me to get rid of many things that happened while we were over there, and things that happened after we got back,” he said. “… It did lift that burden from me, and I was very, very fortunate to have the guidance of Lisa being there.”
“I told her, ‘You’re not just my guardian, you’re my guardian angel,’ ” Hartel added.
Dean Pace, an Army veteran who also served in Vietnam, said the trip also helped him alleviate some of the pain the war caused him and his fellow veterans.
“It’s about meeting new people, but it’s basically about healing,” Pace, who grew up in Geauga County and now lives in Mansfield, said of the trip.
Pace also had the opportunity to visit Washington on an honor flight in March, he said, and the two trips have helped him put the pain of the war behind him.
“This process has healed over 50 years of hurt,” Pace said. “And I just want to say it is a new day thanks to people who love you and share your support for you.”
Both Hartel and Pace said visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was a particularly poignant part of the trip. Pace found the name of a friend who died during the war, whose last name he couldn’t remember until his guardian from the honor flight trip he went on in March researched for him and uncovered the friend’s name: David Henry Shiflett of Montrose, W.V.
“I said, ‘David, thank you so much for your friendship and your service,’ ” Pace said of his moment standing before Shiflett’s name on the wall. “… It was something that I never dreamt would have happened.”
The visit to the wall also was a moving experience for the guardians who went on the trip, said Hunter Flinner, who accompanied his grandfather, Tom Kidwell, on the trip.
“The Vietnam wall was very powerful, seeing the vets go through that, having that kind of closure,” said Flinner, whose grandfather is an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
Flinner, who works for Holmes-Wayne Electric, lives across the street from his grandfather in Blachleyville. And the trip, especially the welcome home parade Sunday evening in Shreve, provided a memorable experience for the two of them, Flinner said.
“It was a very special moment to go through it with him. We’ve always been close,” Flinner said. “… I think we have a very supportive community, and for the people of Shreve to come out and do that, that was special.”
About 100 people lined state Route 226 into Shreve to welcome the veterans and guardians home Sunday evening. The parade included motorcycles from Rolling Thunder Ohio Chapter 2, emergency vehicles from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, and an honor guard from the Shreve American Legion.
“That was a pinnacle. Everyone realized that this was it, that the community was welcoming them home,” said Clark Sprang, of Big Prairie, who served as a guardian for his friend, Carl Ayers, of Perrysville, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
“I think the Shreve community and this general community is a great community, and they demonstrated that again by what they have done for these veterans,” Sprang added.
And the community support for the trip goes beyond the welcome home parade, said Robyn Tate, who works for Holmes-Wayne Electric and helps organize the trip. The weekend is an all-expenses-paid affair thanks to individual and business donors who sponsor the veterans, she said.
“It reassures me that our little corner of the world and our community values our veterans and is committed to not forgetting what they’ve done for us,” Tate said of the trip, and the community’s support of it. “And I just feel humbled that I get to be part of it.”
Tate added that the group travels by bus rather than by plane because it allows them more time together to talk and to form a bond, and more time in Washington to visit memorials, including the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And ultimately, Sprang said, the trip forged a strong bond between all of the veterans and guardians.
“Both the vets and the guardians left Shreve as individuals. We may have been familiar, we have known each other, but we were individuals,” Sprang said. But, he added, the group’s organizers told them they would return as a family.
“And that was certainly true,” Sprang said.