WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Navy Veteran Vernon G. Schmitz stood at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., he had a lot on his mind.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Schmitz, of Fort Dodge, said. “Lots of memories.”
A Vietnam veteran himself, Schmitz was one of more than 140 veterans who took part in the 14th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight Saturday.
The Honor Flight, which is held twice a year, takes area veterans to Washington, D.C., for an entire day to visit the various war memorials and monuments in the nation’s capital.
Schmitz said he had never visited the actual memorial before, but had been to the traveling memorial when it came to Fort Dodge.
However, he said that was a long time ago.
While in D.C., Schmitz took a picture of a name that was on the wall.
“He was a classmate I graduated with,” Schmitz said. “He was in the Army. I was in the Navy. We were over there at the same time.”
Another Vietnam veteran, David Bohlmann, of Manning, who served in the Army, spent his time looking over the names. At one point he placed his hand on the wall, looking at each name.
“It’s sad to see all these names,” he said. “But I’m proud of them.”
Navy veteran Frank Martin, of Carroll, had been to the Vietnam memorial twice before Saturday’s Honor Flight, but there was something about the third time that was different.
“It’s so much more being together with the other veterans of my era,” he said. “It’s very meaningful to me.”
Army veteran Doug Bass, of Carroll, agreed.
“It’s kind of amazing,” he said. “It brings back a lot of memories, but it’s also a sad day seeing all the people on the wall.”
Unlike Martin, Bass had never been to the Vietnam memorial before.
“It’s very touching,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Vietnam War veterans weren’t the only veterans who were on the Honor Flight; 12 World War II veterans were also on the flight, as were a number of Korean War veterans.
Marine Corps veteran Kendric Wunder, of Lake Park, served in Korea.
He served in an anti-aircraft battalion.
“When I was there, we weren’t shooting,” he said. “I was sitting on top of this mountain, waiting for something to happen, and it never happened.”
Saturday was Wunder’s first time going to D.C., which he said was “pretty impressive.”
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been this far east,” he said.
Bob Jacobson, of Humboldt, served in the Marine Corps during World War II.
By the time he joined the war, the Japanese had already surrendered.
“I ended up in China,” he said. “I was there almost 24 months.”
When he was there, he said the Communist Party was starting to take over the country.
“They made themselves known to us in different ways,” he said.
He said he is proud of his service to his country.
“Serving in the Marine Corps for the United States of America was a great privilege for me,” he said. “I’m glad I was able to do it.”
For many of the veterans on Saturday’s flight, it was the first time they felt appreciated for their service.
As the veterans got off the airplane at Dulles International Airport and went through the terminal to the buses, they were greeted by a large crowd of people who were cheering and applauding and thanking them for their service.
“What a great day!” Army veteran Robert Chapman, of Clarion, who served in Vietnam, said, as he made it through the line.
He received a hug from Caryn Danoff, of northern Virginia, before he boarded the bus.
Vietnam veteran Ron Quandt, who served in the Army, smiled as he made it through the crowd of people.
“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “It made me feel proud.”
Fellow Vietnam veteran Gary Aljets, who served in the Navy, agreed.
“It’s very nice,” he said. “It really made you feel proud to be a part of this. It’s out of this world.”
Both men said, when they arrived home from Vietnam, the welcome was drastically different.
Quandt said the only ones who met him were his mother, father, brother and sister.
Aljets said he was only greeted by his parents, sister and brothers.
Bohlmann said he was treated similarly when he was discharged at Fort Hamilton in New York City.
“They gave me my money and said, ‘Here, go home,'” Bohlmann said. “I had no greeting.”
Army veteran Steve Hoogenstraat, of Carroll, said he spent 14 and a half months in Vietnam serving in the infantry with the 7 Cavalry Regiment, 1st Calvary Division, the same unit the movie “We Were Soldiers” was based on.
He had been a student at Iowa State University, but when his money ran out, he was drafted and was placed in the infantry.
“We were pretty much in the center of the Mekong Delta, about 70 miles south of Saigon,” he said.
Seeing the positive reception from the crowd of people at the airport was his favorite part of the day.
“For me, being a Vietnam veteran — and I’m sure it happened to a lot of Korean veterans, too — we never got a homecoming of any kind, let alone anyone doing a parade,” he said.
For Hoogenstraat, the Honor Flight was important to him on a very personal level.
“I needed this quite a bit,” he said. “It was quite a good healing process for a lot of us. I’m very thankful that I was able to come and very thankful that people donated enough money for me to come.”
The veterans on Saturday’s Honor Flight also received an unexpected surprise when in D.C.
While the normal itinerary for the Honor Flight simply has the tour buses drive past the Air Force Memorial, due to time constraints, on Saturday, the veterans were actually able to get off the bus and walk around the memorial.
Mel Schroeder, an Honor Flight board member, said this was the result of a police escort accompanying the buses, which was the first time this has happened.
“We usually plan an hour for the tour,” Schroeder said, but because of the escort, the tour of Washington, D.C., was completed more quickly than expected.
So Schroeder said the board decided, with the extra time, to get off the buses at the Air Force Memorial.
“We have several Air Force veterans on here,” he said. “I’m kind of glad we did this.”
The veterans also visited the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
Veterans also went to Arlington National Cemetery to see the lowering of the flag and the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On the flight back, veterans received mail from friends and relatives, as well as had their names announced one by one to a cheering crowd at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport.