Going on an Honor Flight for veterans gave Stan Harms of Marion something he didn’t get when he returned from the war in Vietnam: Appreciation and respect.
The group of 56 veterans, escorts, and Honor Flight organizers was applauded at St. Louis when they changed planes, at receptions, and upon return to Wichita. At Wichita, all other passengers left the plane first, then the Honor Flight passengers deplaned together. A bagpiper, applause, gifts, and salutes were waiting for them.
“Some of the guys had tears in their eyes and I was starting to sniffle a little, then I saw the whole family there.” Harms said. “It was fantastic the reception we got, people clapping, slapping us on the back, people kissing us. We didn’t get that when we came home.”
Harms was part of Honor Flight No. 42, going from Wichita to Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, District of Columbia, Oct. 5-7.
The group visited Fort McHenry, the scene of the War of 1812 battle that inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Star Spangled Banner.” They also visited the World War II, Korean, Lincoln, Vietnam, Air Force, Iwo Jima, and Navy Memorials as well as Arlington National Cemetery.
They were in Washington at the right moment to see the remains of Navy Seaman 2nd Class Lewis Wagoner, originally of Whitewater, being escorted home.
“This guy was in the USS Oklahoma and went down in Pearl Harbor,” Harms said. “They finally identified him and brought what was left of him home Friday.”
Harms’ trip was a long time coming.
“He was on the list for two years to go to this,” said his wife, Barbara Harms.
Harms said he entered the Army on April 18, 1966, and was sent overseas in 1967. He came home shortly before July 4, 1968.
That July 4 brought an unexpected surprise.
“Somebody let off a string of fireworks and I hit the ground,” Harms said. “Since then it’s not bothered me much. I just try to avoid fireworks.”
Harms said his primary memories of Vietnam are long spans of down time with much boredom punctuated by seconds of stark fear.
He remembers the early morning his buddy was shot, and his shock to find out who it was.
While at the Vietnam memorial, Harms found his buddy’s name on the wall.
“We highly recommend any veteran out there to sign up for it,” his wife, Barbara Harms, said. “This was a lot better ceremony than what they would have gotten then, even had the war been not so controversial.”
Harms wishes awareness of veterans’ contributions would lead to better treatment of veterans.
“We need to work on some of the veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Harms said. “We have a veteran here who’s a double amputee. They need to be recognized and given the health care that they should have.”