WASHINGTON, D.C. — They came as strangers. They will be leaving as friends.
Before they left Reno Friday morning, many of the veterans were reticent. In less than 48 hours, though, they shared some of their most intimate moments of serving in the military and especially Vietnam.
Day 2 came to a close, but I’ll leave out the dinner and the sharing of memories to another entry.
Honor Flight Nevada flew 54 veterans, guardians and support personnel to the nation’s capital for an experience of a lifetime. Those who wondered why they were on the trip soon opened up and talked about their experiences, both at the capital’s memorials and monuments and with their military service.
On this journey, most of the travelers served in Vietnam, and the Honor Flight from Reno was generously supported by the Atlantis Casino and Resort in Reno.
Veterans began their day with a police escort leading their bus from the hotel near the BWI airport to their first stop in the city, the Navy Memorial and then off to the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial under the shadow of the capitol. On two walls were inscriptions and poignant words of wisdom about the human desire to protect freedom at any cost.
Three World War II veterans on Honor Flight Nevada participated in the presentation of wreaths at the WWII Memorial including Charles Montanaro, who was mentioned in one of my September articles. Montanaro served in the U.S. Merchant Marines during WWII in the Pacific. At the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, he carried an urn of a fallen Merchant Marine comrade whose remains had been identified and were prepared for internment at the NNVMC.
At the WWII memorial Montanaro, of Carson City, assisted the official party with the presentation of the wreath on behalf of the mariners who served in the Merchant Marine during the war.
For the 96-year-old Montanaro, the trip has given him closure to a most important period in our country’s history.
The HFN veterans saw the outpouring of respect ranging from all ages of individuals. At the United States Air Force Memorial, three bands played including one from Rippon (Calif.) High School. When veterans heard the musicians hailed from neighboring California, they offered loud applause, proving it doesn’t matter if we are Nevadans or Californians. It just proves we’re all Americans.
On a side note, a parent, who’s also a school board member from Omro, Wisconsin, approached one of our World War II veterans. Sandy Markech and the other adults received a World War II commendation medal to honor the day’s activities.
“I don’t deserve this,” she said.
She walked to the Nevada WWII veteran and presented him with her medal. Sandy explained her uncle served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot, and her father-in-law was a bombardier aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress.
“My husband’s father lost quite a few of his crew,” she said.
… The visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the Vietnam Wall was emotional for many of the HNF veterans. Before the ceremony, I saw Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Department of the Interior. Zinke was a career military man, having served in the Navy before retiring in 2008. He graduated from SEAL training and was assigned to SEAL TEAM ONE. Subsequently, he held several leadership positons and also deployed to Iraq, where he received numerous awards.
I approached him after he had talked to a well-wisher, and introduced myself as a retired editor and current military journalist. He hesitated for a moment, but then I mentioned I lived in Fallon. His eyes widened. He stopped, turned, and what ensued was about a 5-minute chat telling me of his training at Fallon. In his current position, Zinke said he has been in contact with the leadership at Fallon's Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center about range modernization plans. Zinke also mentioned his stepfather fought in the Korean War.
After a presentation on the 35th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, veterans and the public walked up to the wall, many looking at the names, some taking photos and others copying names onto a piece of paper.
The day of touring ended with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and a stop of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It is easy to see why the nation has acknowledged the service of our Vietnam veterans.
Welcome home ….
Steve Ranson is LVN’s Editor Emeritus who covers military news for the Nevada Appeal and the LVN. He is traveling with a group of veterans to Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flight Nevada.