WASHINGTON DC (WKBT) – Four La Crosse Vietnam War veterans remember their return from war for what they did not receive; thank you for their service. A special trip on the Freedom Honor flight to Washington DC showed them how times have changed.
Before sunrise on Saturday, La Crosse convened for a moment built on appreciation for service.
âI haven’t been up so early with these guys since we went to basic training,â said Bill McArthur, a Vietnam War veteran.
News 8 Now met McArthur, George Bell, Jim Bantle and Peter Opitz 48 hours before their special trip to the nation’s capital. Seventy-three of their fellow Vietnam War veterans boarded a plane, along with family and friends in force, as they took off for a memorable flight.
A parade awaited them at Reagan Airport in Washington DC The group stopped at the Lincoln Memorial before witnessing a wall with the names of their friends who never made it home.
Peter Opitz reunited with his best friend William at the Vietnam War Memorial. Painful memories ran across his face.
âI was with him when he was killed,â Opitz said. âSeptember 22, 1967.
“My birthday was June 2 and it was August 2, he was 19 when he was killed.”
It is as if the war took place yesterday.
âWe were ambushed,â Opitz said. âWe never met him until about three hours later. We couldn’t get it.
Opitz returned home, but said he was not welcome at home.
âIn 67, we came home, we didn’t get that kind of agreement. We got spit on you, called you baby killers, âhe said. âYou didn’t want to wear a uniform. You didn’t want anyone to know you were there.
The line of people at the airport reminded him of how much things have changed over the years.
âIt was shocking, the reception,â Opitz said.
Brandle has come up with a name. For him, this wall keeps morale alive.
âIt’s sad, but it’s cool,â Brandle said. “I hope he will never be forgotten.”
Freedom Honor Flight also aims to rekindle old relationships for those who say they were lucky enough to return home in 1968.
“We both came out, lucky,” said Tom Smith, a Vietnam War veteran.
Smith and Philip Moran had not seen each other for 54 years.
âWe’ve been sending emails for the past two years,â Smith said. âI found it on the Internet. I just texted him and he remembered me.
Smith also found names on this wall.
âI found five on the wall,â he says.
Not to mention the day this trip fell.
âI wasn’t in the towers,â Moran said. “I was about four blocks away.”
America reflected on some of the darkest hours in the country’s history on Saturday. Philip was working on Wall Street when the Twin Towers fell to the ground 20 years ago.
âIt’s weird and it brings him home,â Moran said.
Freedom Honor Flight visited Arlington National Cemetery. It brought these heroes together for a moment of silence. Some of the best soldiers in the US Army stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This tradition shows respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The consensus of this group of men is that the photos do not do justice to the nation’s capital. There is something about being there that made the wait worth it.
âOh yeah, it really is,â Optiz said.
These memorials can teach everyone who lives here the irony of freedom.
âFreedom is not free,â Brandle said.
The return flight gave these brave men one last surprise. The ultimate thank you letters and letters were delivered by the people they love the most. Optiz’s sister walked out of the park with photos of him as a child and the man he had become. This gift created a smile that said it all.
Freedom Honor Flight will make its 26th trip on October 9. The veterans returned with their family and friends to welcome them into their homes.
The Stoddard American Legion presented this check for $ 7,500 to help support future flights.
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