Reflecting On Times of War: Honor Flight Helps Veterans Find Peace
Their trip to D.C. also helped them to create some new memories that'll last a lifetime
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The wars may be over, but the memories live on for the veterans who fought in them.
You could see it in more than 80 of them who went on this year’s honor flight to D.C.
Joe Jimenez was just 20 years old when he enlisted as an Army clerk serving in Vietnam.
Little did he know he would never sit behind a desk.
“When I got to my unit, my CO said he didn’t want a clerk typist. That wasn’t what he needed, he needed a fighting man,” Jimenez said.
So a fighting man he was.
Jimenez spent 19 months in Vietnam, where he not only lost close friends but his exposure to Agent Orange also resulted in his loss of vision, forcing Jimenez to completely change the way he approached everyday life.
“I depend everything on the cane and the touch. My senses have really developed, my sense of smell, hearing, listening to different sounds,” Jimenez said.
Despite all the challenges he’s had to overcome, Jimenez says he doesn’t regret fighting for his country.
It’s why he came to D.C. for this year’s Honor Flight.
Joe touched, felt and smelled the closure he’s been hoping to gain for years, at the Vietnam Memorial.
“I’ve always thought as to why it was me that came back. I got wounded over in Vietnam but there were several times when I could have been dead and I wasn’t,” Jimenez said. “There was another reason why I came back and maybe the one reason was to come visit the wall.”
Jimenez’s wife Mary Jo was also searching for that closure. She lost her cousin James A. Cran in the war and finally saw his name at the wall.
While the two were in D.C. to find something they’ve been looking for, another couple was celebrating everything they have gained.
Betty and Leonard Wahl were stationed in Oklahoma during the Korean War together, where there love story begins on the basketball court of all places.
“He kept coming over to the gym but never said anything and after a while he asked me out for a date and it continued from there on,” Betty Wahl said.
Fifty nine years to be exact, which is why the pair say they couldn’t have pictured coming on their first honor flight without the other.
“Where I am, she is and where she is, I am,” Leonard said.
“This is my greatest achievement,” Betty said.
So many call this trip one of their life achievements because it brought them to those memorials honoring the brothers and sisters they fought alongside, including at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where three servicemen still have yet to be identified.
“Boy, and I’ll tell ya, they said would you please be quiet when you’re there out of respect. Boy, there wasn’t a conversation, there wasn’t a statement by anybody,” said Wayne Sanstead, a veteran on the trip. “There were hundreds of hundreds of people there but not a soul said a thing. It was respectful to the nth degree.”
That respect was carried to every site veterans went to through the kids from Horizon Middle School in Moorhead who thanked them to the random faces on the street that recognize the sacrifice it takes to serve in the armed forces.
“I think there’s just a sense of service,” Sanstead said. “The sense that we gave up home for two, four, six years, whatever it was and it was clearly to the benefit of the nation and it was a sincere effort to do something worthwhile, including most importantly defeating our enemies.”
They are heroes who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II, doing things most of us will never do or will ever see in our lifetime.
“Oh I hope no one ever has to see stuff like that,” Jimenez said.
But for these honor flight veterans who paved the way, it’s why America is a ‘home sweet home’ and why so many will continue to thank them in the years to come.
The next Honor Flight will be in September. If you’d like more information click here.