"We did get to see the moving Vietnam Wall, when it was in Louisiana," said Rose Dean, whose husband, Allen, is a United States Army veteran of the Vietnam War. "There were some names of guys my husband knew on it. He took a piece of paper and pencilled off their names."
When the next Texas Panhandle Honor Flight takes off from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, September 12, bound for Washington, D.C., six Moore County veterans, including Allen Dean, will be on board. In addition to Dean, Doel Cordero, Bruce Milburn, Jimmy Payne, George Rogers, and Jerry Eads will be on the chartered flight. Bart Templeton, a former Dumas resident who now lives in Amarillo, will be on board, as well.
The Moore County veterans will join others from around the Panhandle on a trip to visit the memorials, monuments, and museums built in the nation's capital to honor their service. "We would like to give them the welcome home they didn't get the first time," said Sheila Ricks of Texas Panhandle Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that raises money to sponsor the annual trips. The organization has been leading the annual trips to Washington since 2008, shortly after the completion of the World War II memorial in 2004. Except for 2017, when a lack of funds kept them from going, Ricks says they have managed to make a trip every year.
Ricks says the veterans this year will visit the memorials honoring those who served in the Vietnam War, World War II, and the Korean War. They will also visit the Women in Military Service to America Memorial, the Stephen F Udvar Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps. They will attend a changing of the guard and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Finally, they will visit in the Capital with Congressman Mac Thornberry and his staff. "This trip is pretty serious, and we take it seriously," said Ricks. "It is our way of giving back to these veterans and honoring them for their service."
Ricks says veterans of the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War eras are eligible to apply to go. She says this year they have begun to make some spaces available to veterans of the Persian Gulf War of 1991. The emphasis, right now, however, is getting as many of the oldest veterans as possible on the trips. World War II began for the United States in December of 1941, and the Korean War began in 1950. Some veterans have been in wheel chairs, and some have had to have caretakers or guardians accompany them. Family members of the veterans are encouraged to go, but spouses are not invited, says Ricks, unless they have a letter from the veteran's doctor stating that he or she is the veteran's full-time caretaker. "It distracts them." The presence of spouses seems to keep them from bonding as well with the other veterans, says Ricks. "This trip is a bonding, healing event."
Valero is paying the cost of the trip for five of the local veterans who were employees, and the company is holding a reception for them on September 9. All of the veterans on the flight will attend a "send-off dinner" in their honor on September 11 at the Amarillo Senior Center. Ricks says the organization gets its money from donations. Businesses like Valero, Phillips 66, and Bell Helicopter often sponsor places on the trip.
The veterans will return to Amarillo on September 14 at 9:30 pm. Ricks says she hopes people will turn out to welcome them back. "We hope we have a crowd out there. We would like for people to be out at the airport and welcome these heros home."
Rose Dean says her husband had wanted to go to Washington to see the Vietnam Memorial for a while, but it was seeing Ricks speak at the Dumas Noon Lions Club this summer that encouraged him to finally apply. "I think it will be a nice trip for all of them. There is so much that they will get to see and do," she said.
Ricks says she has seen the healing effect these trips have on some veterans. One participant who had lived in Washington, D.C. and seen some of the memorials before, told her, "There is nothing like being with fellow veterans and looking at them; it is different from going alone."
Ricks says she finds the whole experience of working with the flights moving. "To hear the stories from World War II to Korea to Vietnam ... it is awesome," said Ricks. "Honor your veterans."