Lubbock welcomes South Plains Honor Flight back home after visits to Korean, Vietnam Memorials
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The final day of the 2022 Texas South Plains Honor Flight was one of great significance, with visits to the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials. Most of the more than 80 veterans on this year’s flight served during those conflicts.
First, the three buses arrived Monday morning at the National Museum of the Marine Corps where exhibits included simulations of those wars.
“The fox holes, artillery rounds going off in the background, the rifle fire and even the helicopter noises in there, it just brought it back,” Army veteran Jim Torres said. “That guy that was on there on the radio, that’s what I did. Watching and listening to the sounds, it brought me back, right back to Vietnam.”
Along the National Mall, Kenneth Gentry, one of the Korean War veterans on the flight, helped to carry the wreath along the Korean War Memorial to place in front of the statues of service members. As a member of the Army, Gentry said he can remember the harsh conditions he faced in Korea.
“The winter times were really hard on you,” Gentry said. “I dodged bullets behind a telephone pole and to see their sparks on the river rocks was something else. It makes you realize that God is in control.”
Gentry said an opportunity to place the wreath gave him a chance to reflect on what he went through and his buddies whose names are now on a new Wall of Remembrance. The Army Corps of Engineers gave the flight’s Korean War veterans a look at the renovations to the memorial.
“It was a great honor to me, a great honor,” Gentry said.
As the South Plains Honor Flight moved toward the Lincoln Memorial steps for a group photo, tourists and strangers expressed their thanks.
PHOTOS: Group photo at Lincoln Memorial
On the other side of the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam War Memorial, inscribed with more than 58,000 names of service members who gave their lives.
It’s where the veterans conducted the final wreath laying ceremony of the trip. Marine Corps veteran Ernie Ebert was one of the four selected to escort the wreath down the memorial wall.
“I see these names and my heart bleeds and I know that God’s got them,” Ebert said. “It just pulls out to me, what they did for us.”
Army veteran Les Beaty was brought to his knees seeing the name of Melvin Wink.
“I pulled them out of the turret of the tank,” Beaty said. “Everybody in the track got blasted. Nobody made it but the tank driver. He was 17 years old.”
Beaty said he had been waiting a long time to express those feelings and leave it all behind at the memorial.
“Fifty two years ago, a long time...carry around stuff like that,” Beaty said. “I’m profoundly grateful. I think the reason I’m here is because they realized that I needed to be here.”
Meanwhile, a group of Hispanic Vietnam veterans, known as the Class of 69, were taking names home traced onto paper for fellow friends who served. The graduates of Lubbock High School meet occasionally for fellowship.
“We all came back,” John Cortez, an Army veteran said. “Thank God that we all came back.”
From the baggage claim to down past the rental car counters family, friends and community members gathered Monday evening to welcome home the veterans at the Lubbock airport. It’s a much different greeting than Vietnam veterans received after their service.
“Back in those days, it was spitting on people,” one Vietnam veteran said. “This, all these people going way out of their way, you just can’t beat that.”
“They made everybody, especially the Vietnam veterans, they made them feel welcome home,” said another.
The Texas South Plains Honor Flight provides three days in Washington, D.C. for veterans at no charge.
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