Five area veterans return from Vietnam Saturday
Old Glory Honor Flight plans homecoming event
By John Faucher
Some 50 years after leaving the war-torn soil of South Vietnam, five area veterans gathered around a table at Shamrock Heights Golf Club in New London for a briefing on a trip that most of them never imagined they would take.
A return trip to Vietnam.
New London veterans Richard Furman, Tony Van Kampen, Nick Patoka and Harold Wolfgram, and Arnie Weyers of Hortonville all served in the Vietnam War. They are among 53 central Wisconsin Vietnam vets participating in the Old Glory Honor Flight Return to Nam trip.
The two-week, one-of-a-kind trip is sponsored by the Northeast Wisconsin Old Glory Honor Flight.
Participants started their journey on Feb. 24. They will return Saturday, March 9, to a huge reception and welcome home at Menasha High School.
“Our Vietnam vets were treated poorly upon their return and many feel as if they endured the horrors of war for nothing,” Old Glory Honor Flight board member Scott Delsart said.
“This trip will give these vets an opportunity for some closure. Seeing firsthand how the Vietnamese people have recovered from the war will undoubtedly induce some much-needed healing for themselves.”
More than 500 veterans from Northeast Wisconsin expressed interest in participating in the trip during its planning phases. Their names were entered into a drawing and selected until 53 spots were filled.
“Many in the community remember our Return to Pearl mission in 2012 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said board member Tony Van Kampen.
“In the years since, many vets have asked us if we would ever take a similar trip to Vietnam. With 2019 being our 10th year of operation, we felt the time was right,” said Tony Van Kampen, who has been part of the organization with his wife Lorraine since its beginning.
Tony Van Kampen is also a Vietnam veteran. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army from 1970-71.
“You have happy stories, you have sad stories,” he said. “Everyone has one or the other. But to see the faces when they come back, that’s a reward you can’t put a dollar figure on.”
The organization raised $250,000 to fund the Return to Nam trip separately from its ongoing missions to Washington D.C. memorials. Old Glory Honor Flights sponsors about 500 veterans per year to fly there.
Tony Van Kampen said when he first started, most of the participants were World War II vets.
“At the time, World War II veterans were passing away at a rate of 900 per day,” he said.
Eventually Old Glory Honor Flight started seeing more Korean War veterans and are now adding Vietnam veterans.
He said the Return to Nam trip is a special “once in a lifetime” trip taking place in addition to the five annual flights to Washington D.C memorials.
Old Glory Honor Flight is a recognized partner in the ongoing, nationally chartered Vietnam War Commemoration.
Vietnam veterans like Furman, Patoka, Weyers, and Wolfgram are touring the country at no cost for two weeks, seeing sites of military significance from Saigon to Hanoi along with traditional tourist attractions.
Lorraine Van Kampen, who is assisting with the Return to Nam flight, said each veteran will be given two commemorative coins on the trip.
“One is to keep and the other is to be left somewhere in Vietnam,” she said.
Lorraine Van Kampen said Old Glory Honor Flight is also working with professional photographers and writers on a Return to Nam documentary project to produce a book capturing each veteran’s individual story and documenting the return journey to Vietnam.
She said she hopes large numbers of community members attend a welcome home celebration and show their appreciation for all Vietnam veterans Saturday, March 9, at the Menasha High School Fieldhouse from 5-8 p.m.
Admission to the event is free.
Entertainment will be provided by the 484th Army Band and the Menasha High School band. Military equipment from the Vietnam War era will also be on display.
The Press Star will highlight the veterans’ trip, with more information on each individual, after their return.