WASHINGTON, (WLFI) – Nearly 90 Vietnam veterans were welcomed home with open arms about 40 years after returning from war.
It was all part of Indiana’s first Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight out of Lafayette.
The day started before sunrise. It was time for 88 Vietnam War veterans to board Lafayette’s 11th Honor Flight to our nation’s capitol.
Many didn’t know what to expect. However, that feeling of uncertainty soon changed.
“Now that I’m here, I can’t explain it,” Vietnam veteran Joe Bridegan said. “All I can say is that it’s overwhelming.”
“This was more than a magical experience,” Ed Jamieson said.
The welcome at the airport was warm. Strangers lined the terminal and cheered on our heroes as they landed in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t even know where they’re from and they’re shaking your hands and patting you on the back,” Paul Lofland said.
“That was the experience we never got,” Jamieson explained. “It made my day.”
Monday’s Honor Flight was different, though. It marked the first Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight in Indiana. The mission was to honor all Vietnam vets with a long, overdue ‘welcome home.’
“When we came back in the 60s, there wasn’t anybody waiting on us,” Howard Clements explained. “Nobody. Nobody at all was there.”
“You were yelled at,” Bridegan said. “Their face shook at you. It was just terrible. But this Honor Flight just totally changed all that.”
“I’m glad we’re getting recognized. That’s really good, because back in the 60s, we came home to no one appreciating us at all,” Clements said.
“The day was full of visits to several monuments, starting at the Lincoln Memorial where the men took a group picture.
From there, it was time to make a stop at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
“I saw a lot of these guys come back with bullet wounds and all burnt up,” Clements said. “The morgue was full every Monday. This is bringing back some bad memories.”
However, Monday wasn’t only a day for these heroes to be honored and to remember those who never made it home. It was also a day for some to declare a new sense of freedom; freedom within their hearts.
“Years ago we had to hold everything in,” Leo Farmer said. “Now, just because we’re men, we don’t have to hold our emotions anymore.”
The day ended with a stop to witness the Changing of the Guard.
“A lot of good guys gave their life for our freedom. These guys just deserve everything.”
With full hearts, it was then time for these heroes to return home. This time, overflowing with joy from new memories of one last mission.