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Honor Flight: Vietnam veteran takes first plane ride since 1966

Honor Flight: Vietnam veteran takes first plane ride since 1966

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — John Brandt got a window seat. And that’s a good thing.

The 74-year-old, and participant in the 19th Sullivan-Hartogh-Davis Cedar Valley Honor Flight out of Waterloo Regional Airport, showed a childlike fascination with what he saw outside his window. He leaned forward, his nose almost touching the window and a plastic cup full of Coke in his hand, and pointed out landmarks below to his “guardian” Bridget Matthias.

Brandt was one of nearly 100 veterans to fly to Washington, D.C., for the day. Along with their guardians, the veterans landed in Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning, boarded buses and set off to see a series of memorials, many honoring their military service.

Brandt served in the Army during Vietnam. This is his first trip to D.C. and his first time in an airplane since 1966.

“I’m having a ball,” he said.

Matthias, Brandt’s attendant, is from Oran and is a registered nurse. She offered her expertise by volunteering for the flight’s medical team and was assigned to accompany Brandt during the trip. It is her first time on an Honor Flight.

“I heard my old chemistry teacher from Wapsie Valley is on this flight,” she said.

The first stop of the day was the World War II Memorial.

Sen. Joni Ernst greeted the veterans as they disembarked, something she does often.

The Iowa travelers shook hands, chatted and had their picture taken with her.

Merelyn Evans, who will turn 90 next month, was the lone World War II veteran on the trip. Accompanied by his son, Randy, of Charles City, Merelyn Evans enjoyed seeing the memorial dedicated to him and his fellow servicemen.

“I think it’s kind of nice,” he said smiling. “I love (the trip) so far.”

Merelyn Evans, who lives in Blue Earth, Minn., enlisted in the Navy when he was 19 years old.

“I had a good time,” he said. “I have no complaints.”

Randy Evans had been wanting to participate in the flight with his father for a long time and got emotional when trying to explain what the trip meant to him.

“More than you know,” he said. “It’s the dream of a lifetime.”

Following lunch, veterans were able to visit the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean memorials.

Dave Eck of Cedar Falls and his daughter, Erin Gross of Ankeny, knelt down in front of the Vietnam Wall, trying to find the name Robert Letsch Jr. Gross ran her finger along the rows of names etched in the mirror-like granite.

“Here it is,” she said, pulling out paper and pencil to trace the name.

Eck, 69, served in the Army from 1969-70. He was in Vietnam for 13 months. He was an armored personnel carrier driver.

“This brings back a lot of memories,” Eck said, referring to the wall. “Some good, some bad. It’s kind of emotional.”

Gross also was emotional.

“My oldest son just joined the Army,” she said. “This is all taking on a whole new meaning for me.”

Next came visits to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery.

Bill Ott, 72, of Fredericksburg, was a clerk in the Army from 1968-70. He spent 181 days in Vietnam. He’s been to D.C. before, but is glad for a return visit.

“I’m happy to come and see it again,” he said. “The second time you do things, it sticks with you quite a bit better.”

Linda Bergmann is one of the Honor Flight organizers. Tuesday’s flight was her 14th — 13th as part of the staff.

She got involved right after retiring from teaching.

“Every flight is like the first one,” she said. “They are all exciting.”

While Honor Flights were first offered to only World War II veterans, now the focus is on Korean and Vietnam vets.

“On the first flights, we needed almost 90 wheelchairs,” she said.

On Tuesday’s flight, about 20 chairs were needed.

“This is a chance, especially for Vietnam vets who came home with a lot of stuff, to just lay it down. A lot of them wouldn’t come on their own,” Bergmann said. “This is how the country really feels about them.”

What hasn’t changed is how appreciative the vets are, Bergmann said.

“And I’ll keep doing it until they tell me I can’t,” she said.


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