16th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight heads to the nation’s capital bearing veterans whose praise is overdue
A chilly breeze blew across the tarmac at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport Saturday morning as the veterans going on the 16th Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight made the short trek from the hangar to the Sun Country 737-800 waiting for them on the apron.
The light of the sun revealed a steel gray sky.
While the weather might have been gloomy, there was absolutely nothing dour in the spirits and hearts of those going on the flight.
Smiles spread from ear to ear. Warm, hearty conversation filled the hangar. Loved ones who came to see their veteran off beamed.
Michael Monroe, of Spencer, served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He was there in 1969.
He was going on the flight with his brother, Navy veteran Dean Monroe, also of Spencer, and their friend, Terry Heinrichs, another Spencer Army veteran.
Monroe paid a price.
“I was in ‘Nam,” he said. “I lost my left eye over there. I also got some leg wounds. Someone in front of me stepped on a Bouncing Betty.”
The Bouncing Betty was a type of land mine that exploded several feet above the ground.
“I looked like a tin sieve when I got loaded on the medivac,” he said.
He faced a long recovery once stateside. He remains very proud of his family’s service.
“There was six of us brothers,” he said. “We all served from World War II through Vietnam. There’s 76 years of service between us.”
Among the sites in Washington, D.C., the veterans visit is the Vietnam War Memorial, which includes the engraved black granite wall that bears the names of those who died.
All three have someone’s name on it.
Terry Heinrichs got hurt in Vietnam too, but it wasn’t in combat.
“I didn’t get wounded, but I got bit by a rat,” he said. “They don’t give you a Purple Heart for that, but I did get 14 shots in my stomach.”
He also had a run-in with some smaller creatures. A lot of them.
“I got stung by hornets too,” he said. “The guy in front of me hit their nest with a machete. We got stung 30 times each.”
Raymond Sigwart, of Carroll, served in the Navy during the Vietnam era. He was helping Army veteran Edward Womach, of Webster City, to the plane.
“I’m looking forward to everything,” Sigwart said. “Especially the greetings. We didn’t get that when we came home from ‘Nam.”
Womach is making a pilgrimage to seek closure for a long-ago loss.
“My second cousin Raymond Perry is on that,” Womach said. “I remember when he left, I was 8. He got killed. I want to see if I can find his name. He was kind of my big brother.”
Air Force veteran William Sankey, of Pomeroy, served 25 years — including a year in Washington, D.C.
“I enjoyed my time in the Air Force,” Sankey said. “I got to travel, see different cultures, meet people, make friends. I just really enjoyed it.”
Master Sgt. Ariel Echevarria, with the Iowa Air National Guard’s 133rd Test Squadron, was helping Sankey across to the plane. They had one thing extra in common besides serving in the same branch: their rank.
“That’s what I retired at,” Sankey said.
“It’s awesome how it goes full circle,” Echevarria said.
Of course, one of the main reasons for having the Honor Flights is to thank the veterans for their service.
Michael Piatt, 6, of Fort Dodge, took that lesson to heart. He came to the departure with his mom, Iowa Air National Guard Master Sgt. Justine Piatt.
“He asked to come,” she said. “He wanted to thank the veterans for his freedom.”