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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Six Ste. Genevieve County residents were part of the final Honor Flight put on by the Franklin County Honor Flight Hub Oct. 14-15.
The Honor Flights program flies veterans to Washington, D.C., and provides special tours of war memorials and other historic sights, to honor their military service.
Tom Brown, John Buatte, Charles “Chick” Dickerson, Irv Palmer, Ralph Pike and Bob Scheuermann took part in the flight.
All but Buatte, who had to be out of town, were able to gather at the Herald office and share their experience.
The Honor Flight program was largely started to honor Vietnam veterans, who had not received their just dues when returning home.
Unlike previous and future war veterans, the Vietnam vets were often reviled by a counter culture that opposed the war. Many were actually spit on when they returned.
Pike, who was mustered out in October 1968, reflected on that reception.
“When I came home, you didn’t want people to know where you’d been,” he said. “The first thing you do, you threw your military clothes in a bag and hid them. You got in your civvies and, as soon as you could, let some hair grow out. I mean, I never got spit on, but I had slurs thrown at me. They knew you were in the military.”
The Honor Flight program was designed as a way to give those veterans the honor they had not been given previously.
Some Korean War veterans also take part in the program. One of the local six, Irv Palmer, served in the Air Force during the Korean War, spending 21 months on Guam. The other five served during Vietnam.
Dickerson served in the Army from January 1969 to January 1970 and was a tank driver, tank gunner and tank commander in Vietnam.
Pike was in the Army October 1966 to October 1968 and was also a tank commander and assistant platoon sergeant.
Brown was in the Navy January 1966 to January 1972. He served in Vietnam aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Berkeley.
Palmer was in the Air Fore January 1950 to January 1953. A truck driver before the war, he drove various types of trucks in the Air Force, including the 21 months on Guam.
Scheurmann was in the Navy from April 1965 to April 1967 and served a lithographer in Norfolk, Va.
Buatte was in the Marine Corps from June 1964 until June 1967, serving as a combat engineer.
The trip included a bus trip, escorted by the Missouri Highway Patrol, to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis and a flight to Regan International Airport in Washington, D.C., and back. On their return to Lambert, a large group of people, including a bagpipe band, welcomed them home.
“I was blown away by that reception,” Pike said.
They also received a bag of letters from Ste. Genevieve Elementary and Bloomsdale Elementary fifth-graders, as well as from relatives and friends. They agreed it was just like “mail call” during their military service.
The Highway Patrol, plus two motorcycle police officers escorted them from Lambert to Festus.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
The group arrived in Washington, D.C. about noon. And immediately went to the Air and Space Museum, where one of the displays was the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb.
The old expression, “Your money is no goon here,” was in effect. The veterans were not allowed to pay for anything.
“They told us in Farmington, you’ve got to bring your billfold for ID,” Pike said, “but you don’t have to bring a nickel.”
“I didn’t open my wallet the whole time,” Brown said.
Everything was paid for. Anytime any of the group tried to buy anything, it was bought for them.
They ate lunch the first day at Mission Barbecue, and then visited the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials and the Lincoln Memorial. The next day they went to Arlington National Cemetery and watched the legendary changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Normally the soldiers are silent throughout. With the Honor Vets, however, the guard talked for several minutes.
That day they visited the Air Force Memorial, the Iwo Jima statue, the Pentagon and the Navy Memorial.
They agreed that the Korean War monument, depicting several soldiers wearing rain ponchos and helmets, was the best of the individual war monuments.
“I thought the Korean monument was most impressive, but I liked the World War II monument,” Pike said, “because I knew how many soldiers we lost there. I had family that served in World War II. That was a pretty neat monument, too.”
Dickerson listed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the Lincoln Memorial as the sites that most impressed him.
They all agreed that the tomb guards “went above and beyond the call of duty,” explaining the procedure the guards go through and how difficult it is to be selected as a guard.
If there was a downside it was trying to see so much in such a short period of time.
“The problem with the whole thing was the sensory overload,” Scheurmann said. “So many things, so many memories, so many, you know.”
“You were totally overwhelmed,” Brown agreed.
The outpouring when of respect and affection shown by the crowd when they came into Lambert Airport in the gate area touched all five men deeply
“There were grown men crying,” Scheurmann said, “and I don’t mean us.”
They called the weekend “a great, awesome weekend,” and “memorable beyond belief.”
The Franklin County Honor Flight Hub, established in 2007 is one of 142 hubs in 43 states. The group, operating out of Washington Mo., has taken some 2,100 veterans to Washington, D.C., and back, under the leadership of President Rosalie McGaugh.
The Franklin County hub is shutting down. This was its final flight.
Officials said there is a lack of veterans wanting to do honor flights – especially with the new COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Now, anyone in eastern Missouri wishing to go must go through the St. Louis hub, where there is a two- to three-year wait.