RENO — Many Nevada veterans who served from the Vietnam to Gulf wars as well as during the Cold War years said they were both in awe and humbled by their weekend trip to see the nation’s monuments and memorials as part of the latest Honor Flight Nevada.
Forty veterans, including three married couples and two servicemen who live in Elko, were surprised with the homecoming they received on Oct. 28 at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport after arriving home after spending three days in Washington, D.C. Their reception coincided with the state’s Battle Born weekend to celebrate its statehood in 1864.
The vice president of marketing and public affairs for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority welcomed home the veterans and their guardians. He said about 850 veterans have flown through the airport on 25 honor flights. He also singled out the Blue Star Mothers and Patriot Guard Riders for their support as well as the Civil Air Patrol Cadets and Sr. Airman and bagpiper Mariah Connell, who leads the procession from their arrival gate to the airport’s lobby.
Ben Reed Sr. expressed his gratitude to both the travelers who greeted the returning flight at the gate to those at the reception. He enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17.
“When I went in, I went to boot camp and then to school,” said the Elko County resident, whose son is that city’s chief of police.
After completing boot camp and additional training, the Navy assigned Weed to a landing ship tank. LSTs supported amphibious operations during World War II and later in Korea by carrying tanks, vehicles, cargo and landing troops directly onto shore where no docks or piers existed. After the Korean War, Reed said the crew from his LST and sailors from other ships conducted exercises including drills of dropping off supplies and men at Inchon, the site of a major battle in September 1950.
More than 75,000 troops and 261 naval vessels took part in the invasion that led to the recapture of Seoul, the Korean capital. LSTs and other amphibious craft took part in the assault.
“Inchon has some of the highest tides in the world,” Reed said.
As with their predecessors, Reed said LST landings at Inchon were still tricky because of the changing tides. According to Reed, his LST waited off shore until high tide dropped during one exercise, and when the right time occurred, the ship took Marines to the beach.
“The mission was very successful,” Reed recollected. “But it was dangerous if we let them off too early where they could’ve drowned with their heavy backpacks.”
Reed is active with the Elks Lodge and both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Elko. He’s also on the honor guard and carries the U.S. flag for fallen veterans.
During the trip to Washington, D.C., Reed said the Korean War memorial caught his attention.
“It was so outstanding,” Reed said of the lifelike figures conducting a patrol.
Another veteran from Elko accompanied Reed on the honor flight. Gil Hernandez grew up in Montello, went to school in Wells and now lives in Elko. As a young marine, the Purple Heart medal recipient saw intense fighting in Vietnam and was wounded three times. Hernandez, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., numerous times with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he never had an opportunity see the memorials or visit a monument because he was busy with VFW duties.
During his recent trip, Hernandez said he was with a group of veterans who had served in different conflicts.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “They say ‘we are now family.’ I also met some Marines who served in Vietnam either before me or at another time. I was way up north, and they were way down south.”
Hernandez said his fellow Vietnam comrades understood what each person faced in that country.
Minden resident John Damann served in the Army at Fort Greely, Alaska, home of cold-weather training and a launch site for anti-ballistic missiles.
“I was on duty with the fire department,” said the military firefighter. “I did my whole time in the Army there. It was considered an overseas assignment.”
Damann nearly deployed to Vietnam because the Viet Cong were destroying fire trucks that responded to jet and other aircraft fires and mishaps. His enlistment ended, though, before he was shipped to Vietnam. During his time at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Damann said he walked the wall and found a friend’s name, a helicopter pilot. Damann said he liked the Korean War memorial and the World War II memorial.
“My uncle was killed in World War II,” Damann said. “He was a bomber pilot.”
Damann said he was exposed to a wealth of history during the trip and would like to bring his family to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials.
Lovelock veteran Ross Gorsling spent his time with the Army at Da Nang, a large city along the coast in central Vietnam that had one of the busiest aircraft hubs averaging more than 2,500 aircraft operations daily.
Gorsling said he saw the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War memorial and the Lincoln Monument, all impressive sites. He said flying to Washington, D.C., and visiting the various memorials gave him a piece of mind and closure.
“This was an outstanding time to make the trip,” he said.
A Marine who served at Da Nang the same time Gorsling did was Jim Hutcherson of Reno. His wife, Gloria, also a Marine Corps veteran, and he were one of the married couples on the trip. Jim Hutcherson said he learned of Gorsling’s duty at Da Nang during their conversations at Washington, D.C. While the memorials attracted many veterans to them, Jim Hutcherson said the people and their reception for the veterans impressed him.
“The greeting at the hotel stood out the most,” he said.
Gloria Hutcherson, who was assigned to the warehouse at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, said she liked the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery as well as the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
“It was wonderful,” she said of the memorial and cemetery.
The most recent Honor Flight also included a veteran who served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the 1960s. Sparks resident and member of the high school’s class of 1960 Woody Peterson said the Coast Guard was conducting training exercises off Cuba’s coast in October 1962 when the Soviet Union decided it was going to ship missiles to the island country, 90 miles from the Florida Keys.
“We were part of the defense that was set up for it,” he said.
With both the United States’ and Soviet Union’s governments playing a cat-and-mouse game during the missile crisis, neither side wanted to back down. During late October 1962, the world teetered with the threat of conflict, possibly a nuclear war, until the Soviets backed down.
“I’m sure glad they changed their minds,” said Peterson, who was aboard a converted seaplane tender that was only 311 feet long.
During the blockade, Peterson said ships were assigned to a 100-mile square in the ocean.
During the honor flight, Peterson said the children they met were appreciative of their service, and he was humbled during a mail call on Saturday night when each veteran received letters from Reno-area schoolchildren who thanked them for their service.
“They all said the same thing: Thank you for helping keep us free,” Peterson said.
Navy veteran Coop Cooper served on a special weapons detail during the Cold War from 1958 to 1967. He said Cuban President Fidel Castro was making life difficult for the U.S. after he came into power in 1959 as the new prime minister and later as president.
Cooper, though, never saw action in Southeast Asia.
“I didn’t go to Vietnam, but I would’ve gone if called,” he added.
Cooper said the honor flight was a humbling experience from meeting new people to seeing the memorials.
From 1967 to 1971, Lainie Cody of Reno spent her time in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps in Turkey. The takeaway from her honor flight also will be the people.
“They gave us good wishes and shook our hands,” she said. “In Washington, people would rush up to us.”