WASHINGTON, D.C./KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Many veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars weren’t given the choice of whether or not to serve, and those who returned home were often shunned.
Honor Flight of the Appalachian Highlands hopes to change that by giving veterans from those eras a trip of a lifetime to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials in the nation’s capitol.
“I’ve been to D.C., but to be with other vets like this, it’s sort of touching,” Air Force veteran Tom Fluke said as the veterans were sent off from Kingsport.
While there, 20 Tri-Cities veterans visited war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, it was pouring down rain, everybody was just silent as a mouse, everybody was so respectful,” said trip guardian Tom Masner. “All the vets were right there. The sentinels, they scuffed their heels to salute all these vets that were there. It’s just overwhelming.”
Masner is a veteran himself but has served as a guardian on 13 Honor Flight Missions, helping facilitate trips.
“Our guys, they kind of fall in and mingle with those guys, and they talk and they find people that they’ve missed for years,” Masner said. “It’s good for them, but selfishly, I think I get more out of it than they do.”
The trip is free for veterans, but it’s a small gesture for a priceless sacrifice.
“They build camaraderie, they have healing moments, they share the weekend with their brothers that have served with them in different service genres, in different wars,” said HFAH President Michelle Stewart. “They come together, they’re still a soldier and they have that moment of healing.”
Fluke felt that healing on the trip.
“I had some terrible things in Hawaii,” Fluke said. “People that were coming back were in little tin boxes, and I get to meet people that made it back.”
Honor Flight hopes to give veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars the ‘thank you’ and ‘welcome home’ they never received.
“There were times when people came back from the middle of overseas that we were told not to wear our uniforms because of the conflict that we had in our country, and I’m glad to see that that’s changed,” Fluke said.
Veteran Coy Clark agrees.
“It’s uplifting to see that finally, these Vietnam era veterans are getting the recognition that they should have got 30 years ago when they first came back,” Clark said.
HFAH is going on another trip next weekend. If you’d like to be a part of the sendoff, they’re leaving Friday, Oct. 6 at 8:30 a.m. from Bethel Christian Church in Limestone.
If you’d like to support the HFAH, there is a charity Jeep ride and cornhole tournament Saturday, Sept. 30.