Although Nevada’s military veterans had a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C.’s memorials and monuments dedicated to the nation’s wars and events, they said their recent three-day trip to the east coast made them proud of their service.
More than 30 veterans arrived on Veterans Day at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport as part of the 26th mission of Honor Flight Nevada, a nonprofit organization that gives veterans an opportunity to visit the nation’s capital to learn more about the country’s history.
Among the travelers were veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“We’re so honored by you being here today,” said Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. “People will always step up to preserve the freedom we have.”
Both the Blue Star Mothers and Patriot Guard Riders lent their support for the homecoming as did family and friends waving signs and flags, and Civil Air Patrol cadets holding the U.S. flag and bagpiper Mariah Connell, a senior airman with the Nevada Air National Guard, led the veterans’ procession from their arrival gate to the airport’s lobby.
Schurz resident Reynold Sammaripa enlisted in the Army as a young man and served in Vietnam as an infantryman from 1967-68. After he returned to Nevada, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service and attended the University of Nevada, Reno. He then accepted a position at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Hawthorne before the Army took over operations in 1977. After the change, he moved to Las Vegas where he accepted another federal job.
“All the sites stood out but especially the jet crash at the Pentagon,” Sammaripa pointed out.
One of the passenger jets hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon and left a huge gap. Almost 200 people who were either on the flight or working at the Pentagon died that morning. Sammaripa said he was moved with the visit to Arlington National Cemetery, which has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During the Saturday afternoon visit to the cemetery, Sammaripa said he saw the grave of John Glenn, the first American astronaut to circle the earth in a Mercury space capsule.
Former Gardnerville resident C.J. Johnson, a U.S. Air Force veteran who now lives in Reno, contributed to the area’s military history. Johnson taught pilots how to survive when he was stationed at the former Stead Air Force Base northwest of Reno.
“It was the first home base I had,” he said. “I was a survival instructor and taught pilots how to get out of planes when they were in trouble.”
Johnson, who also served at a forward patrol operation in Vietnam, said he was impressed with the welcome the veterans received at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on the first day of the honor flight. Visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall also brought back memories of his service in Southeast Asia and provided a coincidental moment with other veterans.
“There were big crowds at the wall,” said the former tech sergeant, who spent more than one tour in Vietnam. “I talked to people there who were in the same outfit I was in and there at the same time.”
Johnson said his friends encouraged him to go on the Honor Flight Nevada trip and was impressed with the support they received.
“It was amazing how many young people who are so dedicated to supporting us who served,” he added.
Johnson said he keeps in contact with his friends in Douglas County and travels to Genoa to attend church.
Delores Ann “Dee” Gardner and Susan Kennedy, both from Sparks, were two of three female veterans who traveled to Washington. Both served during the Vietnam War era but did not deploy to the country.
Gardner spent 31 years in the Army and attended her officer basic and advanced training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., and later attended the Civil Affair School at Fort Bragg, N.C. A civil affairs officer acts as a liaison between the civilians who live in a war zone or disaster area and the military.
“I was an officer but did personnel and administration for my first 12 years and then went into civil affairs,” she said.
A 1962 graduate of Watsonville (California) High School, Gardner said many classmates joined the military and were sent to Vietnam.
“I thought I was a pretty put-together person, but I lost it at the Vietnam Wall,” she said of her trip. “I had a lot of friends on there, and I lost about a third of my class in Vietnam.”
Kennedy enlisted in the Army as a combat medic and later went into nursing. She said the sites that grabbed her attention were the World War II, the Women’s and Korean War Veterans memorials.
“We had police escorts everywhere,” she said. “Everyone was sensitive and caring … it was overwhelming.”