There is perhaps no greater way to honor our veterans than by taking them to see the monuments and memorials built in their honor in our nation’s capital.
That’s what the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight does three times a year and has been doing since 2014, except for a break during COVID-19.
Videographer Josh Monroe and I had the deep honor of tagging along on this week’s trip, to share the memories, the joy and the tears.
There were 75 veterans from Northern and Mid-Michigan on this honor flight. Among them, three World War II veterans, including Richard Lynch from Mecosta, who signed up at the tail-end of the war.
“Oh, my word. It wasn’t long and I was gone. We’re ready to serve. We were ready to go. Well, I went for training and in California, and I came back home and I went down to, I think some place in Virginia,” said Richard.
It was at the Korean Memorial where he reflected on being sent overseas. Richard’s first assignment in the army was right at the 38th parallel, the border between North and South Korea.
“We were in a schoolhouse in the middle of a farmer’s field. Then they got a little nervous being out there, and we moved the whole unit down there,” he said.
He worked in supply, making sure our troops got fed. “They had a place. We’d go in there and they’d have the [food] ready, and we’d have our guys start throwing it out.”
For Richard, memories of the Korean War have faded over the years, but he was happy to get the opportunity to go on the trip and especially to visit the memorial. “It’s all reminding us of what happened and how we handle things.”
Those are reminders Richard’s daughter and guardian, Janet, hoped her father would get to experience with the Honor Flight. “I think it’s a great honor to be able to come with him and [see] his reaction to this stuff, for him to meet some new friends.”
Different wars, different perspectives. But no matter the conflict, it brings out all kinds of emotions as veterans who visit these memorials and monuments remember their fallen comrades.
Those emotions ran high during this trip for Vietnam War veteran and marine Ric Francis from Gaylord. This was not his first trip to the wall, but it was the first time he was able to actually go up to the wall, thanks to his guardian and friend Randy.
“He’s here with me to support me, and he knows all about all my buddies that got killed over there. I talked a lot about it to him,” said Ric.
Forty-one of those buddies are listed at the very end of the more than 58,000 names on the wall, the men who died in the last battle of the Vietnam war in May of 1975. “We fought with the Khmer Rouge, instead of the Viet Cong, and the Viet Cong feared the Khmer Rouge. But we hit this beach that was highly fortified by the camp, and we didn’t know that it was their training base.”
Ric was here on a mission, to lay this hat at the foot of the wall, bearing a patch with the names of the men who saved the lives of rest of his company on that bloody day – and to recall a promise to his good friend, Walter Boyd, who died in Ric’s arms.
“He got shot with the 50 cal round and when I got a hold of him, I took his dog tags off and I promised him to take the dog tags back to his mother when I got back to the states,” Ric said.
As is always the case with Honor Flight participants, it’s a day and time they will never forget and always cherish as a chance to remember their service and sacrifice with those who can relate.
Now back home, it’s time for Ric to get together with other veterans for a toast. “We get Crown Royal and everybody gets a shot, and we honor our brothers. They’re gone, but they’re not forgotten. That’s how we remember them all the time.”
Each of these trips costs Mid-Michigan Honor Flight about $140,000 and is funded through grants and donations. Any veteran who served between 1941 and 1975 is eligible to go on the trip free of charge.
For more information and how to donate, click here.