First ever all-Vietnam flight travels to Washington, D.C.
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The 19th annual Central Valley Honor Flight sends 68 Vietnam veterans across the U.S. to Washington, D.C., from Fresno, May 13. The Honor Flight embarked on a busy three-day trip, visiting different war memorials dedicated to veterans.
The CV Honor Flight was launched in 2013 by a group of volunteers and supporters who wanted to give the local World War II veterans the opportunity to visit their memorial. Eventually, the team realized there were many Korean and Vietnam veterans who would also benefit from the chance to see their memorials.
On the 19th flight, a total of 32 Army, 16 Navy, 14 Marine Corps and six Air Force Vietnam veterans traveled to Washington D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to them. For many veterans this was their first time even seeing the memorials. From greetings off of the plane, to police escorts, to people giving thanks, these veterans finally got a piece of appreciation they deserved many years ago.
This author traveled with the CV Honor Flight, along with her grandpa, Peter Platt, who is a Naval Vietnam Veteran, May 13. Platt was enlisted at the age of 17, and served from 1963-67. He flew missions on P-3 Orions searching for Soviet submarines. He was a radioman with Tactical Air Control Squadron on amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima and carrier USS Princeton.
Platt is just one of the many veterans, not only in the Central Valley, but in the entire United States.
With a total of six Air Force veterans on the flight, the team heads to the Air Force Memorial. Veterans are given a police escort each day, in order to get to the memorials. The Air Force Memorial is the last military service monument to be erected in the National Capital Region. American architect, James Ingo Freed designed the Memorial with three stainless steel spires reaching 402 feet above sea-level. The granite walls contain inscriptions describing values of aviation pioneers supporting the Air Force.
A favorite of the trip for many veterans was visiting the Vietnam Wall. Veterans were able to find familiar names of their fallen comrades and participate in a ‘rubbing’, which lets participants trace a stencil of the name onto another piece of paper.
The Vietnam Memorial was founded by Jan Scruggs, who served in Vietnam (in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade) from 1969-1970 as a infantry corporal. His main purpose for the memorial was to acknowledge and recognize the service and sacrifice of all who served in Vietnam.
As of May 2017, there are 58,318 names on The Wall. The original 57,939 names were inscribed in Memphis, using industrial equipment and stencils produced through a photographic process. The names of fallen soldiers were provided by the Department of Defense, which compiled a list of combat zone casualties given by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 24, 1965.
The Wall represents the fallen soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War, and is dedicated to all who served in the war.
At the end of the first night, veterans attend a banquet dinner in their hotel. Veterans are served dinner and listen to speakers from the Honor Flight staff who gave thanks to the veterans and shared personal stories. The veterans then ended the night with ‘Taps’ on the trumpet.
A 74-year-old Navy veteran, Rob Rhodes, served in the Navy for 27 years from 1967-94, eventually retired with the rank of Commander. Visiting the Navy Memorial gave him a glimpse of his past, from when he first started in the Vietnam war.
“When I was in Vietnam, I was mainly on patrol boats,” Rhodes said. “I had always known that I wanted to be in the Navy. Once there, I spent six months on the coast and six months on the river. After I was in Vietnam I went on a ship and then went into the reserves, for a total of 27 years.”
During the draft, everyone knew they were going to be called up. Rhodes did not want to join the men in the field. Once in college, he had to defer, with the thought in his mind that as soon as he graduated, he would finally get drafted.
“I wanted to become an officer, and I understood that the life expectancy of a Second Lieutenant in the field was about 90 minutes,” Rhodes said. “I talked to the army recruiter and asked him about the different officer programs. But since I knew I always wanted to be in the Navy, I went and talked to their recruiter. He told me not to bother because by the time I got processed, I would have already been drafted.”
Rhodes applied to OCS (Officer Candidate School), while still in boot camp. Rhodes got put on a commission hold, which meant that the Navy would keep him at one place until his paperwork was processed. He graduated boot camp in January, not getting a decision until July when he found out he was able to go to OCS. Once Rhodes graduated from OCS, he earned the Navy Coast Guard rank of second lieutenant. For the next 27 years, Rhodes worked his way up to Commander.
The final memorial the veterans visited was the US Marine Memorial (Iwo Jima). Little did the veterans know, a large group of people would line the entrance of the memorial to welcome and applaud the veterans.
In the following tweet, veterans are welcomed and applauded by people at the US Marine Memorial.
— Avery Jones (@averyjones_17) May 15, 2019
Not knowing the amount of people that wanted to thank these veterans, Pete Espinoza, who served in the Marine Corps from 1969-71, appreciated the welcome he got at the memorial.
“The thing that I really enjoyed, because I had no idea about was the young kids, coming out to thank us,” Espinoza said. “It really meant a lot to me that they would take their own time to say thank you to us. It makes us veterans feel good knowing that their are people who might be good leaders in the future because they simply care.”
While the statue depicts one of the most famous moments of World War ll, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have fought and who continue to fight.
Marine Corps veteran, Larry Castanon, worked in supply chain, 1971-73. For him, traveling with his fellow veterans meant a lot.
“Its very nice getting to see the Marine Memorial,” Castanon said. “This trip is full of happiness, seeing the nice memorials and statues. I feel like it means a lot to these Marines getting to see their own memorial and for all veterans. The trip has been great, with the gatherings, talking to other veterans and also just being here in general. So far my favorite part has been traveling around with the police escorts.”
The statue represents the six soldiers who raised of the second American flag at Iwo Jima in the Japanese Volcano Islands February 23, 1945, signifying the end of the American campaign in the Pacific during World War II.
During the flight home, the veterans relived a memory from the past: Mail Call
Langhorne resident Jenny Ornsteen remembers her parents, June and Richard launched a project called Mail Call Vietnam during the war, which aimed to bridge the chasm of opinions for and against the war. June began asking local people to write letters to the troops for what she began Mail Call Vietnam. Once NBC picked up the story, letters began to pour in from all over the United States. Mail Call Vietnam continued until about the end of 1966 and eventually sent out nearly 400,000 letters to Americans in Vietnam.
Honor Flight veterans were surprised with large envelopes filled with letters and notes. Messages not only from friends and family, but young students who wanted to thank the veterans for everything they have done. The veterans ended the trip with hundreds of people lined up at Fresno Yosemite National Airport to welcome home hometown heroes. Finally getting the welcome home they deserved so long ago, the honor flight experience made it an unforgettable event for many.
The Honor Flight organization is made up entirely of volunteers, and is supported solely by donations. The CV Honor Flight team wants to give thanks to those who have served our country.
Honor Flight… from local veterans
Refujio “Ray” Ramirez, 74, (Army), served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam 1966-67.
“It’s been more than I could have ever expected,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t expect all of this, I enjoyed it and had so much fun. My favorite part was getting to see the Vietnam Wall and also the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of The Unknowns. This trip was special moment getting to try to relive what we went through many years ago.”
Pete Espinoza, 70, (Marine Corps), served in communications, 1969-71.
“The trip was really great,” Ezpinoza said. “If there was a chance that I could do it again, I definitely would. It was truly awesome. What I really enjoyed was the sites we went too, thinking about all of the fallen at Arlington was just incredible. One of the highlights was getting to take a picture with my fellow Marines in front of the statue.”
Joe Burnes, 74, (Marine Corps), served 1962-66, deployed to Vietnam area in 1695 with radar squadron.
“The Honor Flight seals it, gives us veterans closure,” Burnes said. “My favorite part was the Korean Memorial. The Vietnam Wall was really emotional for me, but the detail on the Korean Memorial was really amazing.
To learn more about the CV Honor Flight, visit their website cvhonorflight.org.
Veterans in the Central Valley wanting to apply to the program, visit cvhonorflight.org/veteran-application/.
For more articles read Senior Reflection: Alexander Rurik and Mother’s Day brings families together, students recall favorite moments.
19th annual Central Valley Honor Flight
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