‘And God, it seemed like years ago’: Vietnam from a veteran’s perspective in 2021

Eye on KELOLAND

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — Midwest Honor Flight takes veterans from this part of the country to the nation’s capital to see the memorials for the conflicts and branches in which they served. On Sept. 18, a flight was wheels up to Washington D.C. for the first time in almost two years.

Charlie Brown of Brandon, S.D. served with the Army in Vietnam. The trip brought him to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for the first time.

“It was kind of surreal,” Brown said. “It was like I was telling my daughter, when you see the name on the, the names on the wall and all of a sudden their pictures … they show up in your mind, and what they look like and what they were, how they were, so yeah it was actually quite a traumatic event, really.”

58,318 names are on this wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They’re either lost their lives or are missing in action. Brown was looking for three specific names. He knew them and saw them die.

“I saw a lot of people die in Vietnam,” Brown said. “I saw a lot of body bags, I saw, there’s so many people that were traumatically injured, that got med-evaced, evacuated, that I don’t know if they made it out, if they lived or died.”

Donald Hookie of Centerville, S.D. served with the Army in Vietnam, too. He uses the word “wonderful” to describe this whole Midwest Honor Flight Trip. Still, the experience here has a somber aspect.

“I tell you what, it makes you sad, because you see a lot of things that your friends didn’t get to see,” Hookie said. “I lost two friends there on the wall over there. From Lake Preston. And God, it seemed like years ago.”

Larry Reck of Rock Rapids, Iowa served in the Vietnam War with the Army. He sported a Vietnam hat on the Honor Flight trip.

“Very seldom go without it,” Reck said. “I got about seven or eight of ’em, all different.”

The trip to D.C. is treating him well.

“Well, it makes me feel good,” Reck said. “We were never treated very good when we came home. In fact when I came home there were demonstrators, and we’re getting the treatment we really deserved.”

The veterans honored on this flight wear this blue t-shirt. Hookie thoroughly enjoys the feeling of being with other Vietnam veterans.

“It was magnificent, to have somebody that went through what we went through,” Hookie said. “It wasn’t any fun over there.”

This wall lists the people who didn’t come home. At 72 years old, Brown has lung cancer, but nevertheless, he’s still here.

“It’s pretty amazing with Stage 4 lung cancer that I’m able to do this, and I’ve been actually fighting this for five years now,” Brown said. “I keep hanging on, they tell me I keep doing good, so I’m going to try to keep going as long as I can.”

This Midwest Honor Flight trip, he says, was good for him.

“Oh yeah it was, yeah and actually I’m not sure if it brought any closure, it brought back a lot of memories, and hopefully it’s not going to bring back the nightmares again, but I guess that’s something we’ll have to wait and see,” Brown said.

Other people have the luxury of sleeping soundly at night while veterans relive the conflicts in which they served. But make no mistake- Brown is glad he went on this trip.

“I’ll never regret doing this,” Brown said. “Never regret it, I’m glad I did it.”

Midwest Honor Flight flies again on Saturday. KELOLAND’s Carter Schmidt will accompany the mission; stay tuned for his coverage.

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