By Tony Hooker
According to their website, the Honor Flight Network was founded by Earl Morse in 2005 after Morse realized that many veterans wouldn’t be able to make the journey to see the recently opened World War II memorial.
Inspired by Morse, Jeff Miller decided to do something similar, only on a larger scale and he began to charter commercial jets for the same purpose. After meeting in Washington, DC in 2007, the two decided to combine forces and form the Honor Flight Network. As of 2017, there were 140 Honor Flight Regional Hubs across the United States. Those hubs have escorted over 200,000 veterans of WW II, Korea and Viet Nam to their respective memorials, free of cost.
One such hub, the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight network, flies out of Springfield Airport and Villa Grove resident Herb Moon recently joined the group for a day trip to Washington, DC. I caught up with the Viet Nam era veteran to discuss the trip.
What was your first impression of the trip?
That it was a good thing to do, and that it shows how people feel about us.
How did it all come about?
I saw an advertisement on TV about this organization, the Honor Flight Network. I called a number and they sent me an application so that they could find out information about us. When we served, where we were and that sort of thing. It took two years to get selected because there were so many ahead of me. Then, when it was my turn, they sent me a letter confirming my flight.
Where did you fly out of?
Where did you fly to?
How long were you there?
All day. Then they flew us back last night. We left Springfield at 5:15 in the morning and got back at 9:30 last night.
What about Washington, DC stood out to you the most?
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They had a wreath laying ceremony as well as the changing of the guard, right after.
Let’s go back a little bit. When did you serve?
1965 to 1968.
What was your unit?
After basic, I was shipped overseas, and I was in the Fourth Missile Command. When I came back to the states, I was in the Fifth Mechanized.
When you say overseas, were you in Viet Nam?
No. I was in Korea, during the Viet Nam. I didn’t go to Nam. When I graduated basic, they split us up. Some went to Korea and the other guys went to Viet Nam.
Where were you stationed in Korea?
Up on the DMZ. The 38th parallel.
What was your role there?
I repaired equipment, trucks and tanks and that sort of thing.
What do you remember about Korea?
I remember in the winter it was 50 below zero! They gave us a pair of boots, we called them Mickey Mouse boots, and your feet were probably 10 inches off the ground. They kept your feet warm, but they were so awkward that you couldn’t run when you wore them.
Where was your next command?
Fort Carson, Colorado. I went to Panama, also.
Were you married then?
No, I got married about five weeks before I got out.
Were you sweethearts?
<Linda Moon> I had met him at Fort Carson the year before. I had a friend whose husband was stationed there, and she wanted me to come out and stay with her because he was going to be gone for two weeks and I went and then I met him. Every time he had leave, he would come back to Illinois, then on to Indiana and Pennsylvania. He hitchhiked from Colorado to Illinois to see me! <laughs>
Where did you grow up?
<HM> South Bend, Indiana.
Did you cheer for the Fighting Irish?
No. I’ve never been a sports fan at all. I lived five miles out in the country, and I had no way to get into town to be a fan of any sport.
Did you get drafted or did you volunteer?
How did you choose the Army?
I don’t really know. My dad was in the Army and I had uncles who served in the Army. The thing I really thought about was getting in and serving before I got on with my life. I didn’t want Uncle Sam coming and bothering me after I was married!
What all did you do when you were in DC?
Went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, the Air Force Museum and the Viet Nam Wall. We also visited the Korean War Monument.
They really packed your day full, didn’t they?
They did. As soon as we got off the plane, they put us on busses and got started, going to see the different things.
Did you know anyone on the Honor Flight?
No, I didn’t know anyone. I got acquainted with a gentleman from Champaign who was on the flight. We had the same guardian. Some guardians had two veterans that they were with and others only had one. Each veteran has a guardian assigned to them, depending on their health.
How old was the oldest veteran on your flight?
I don’t know. There was one WWII veteran, along with a Korean War veteran and then a lot of us Viet Nam-era vets. They take five or six flights a year from Springfield.
What was it like, being around a flight full of veterans?
It was fine. You felt at home. You felt good, like you were around brothers again. When we got home, the entire airport was full of people thanking us for our service.
<LM> There were veterans who had tears streaming from their eyes.
<HM> When we got home back then, in the sixties, there wasn’t this sort of greeting. We got rocks, beer cans, pop cans and bottles thrown at us by the protesters. So, in a way, this was a thank you for our service. Something that really made me know that we were appreciated was that when we landed in Springfield and started to go through building I’d say that there were probably over 300 people there, just to welcome us home. We were shaking hands and other people were shouting thanks to us for our service. It really made us feel welcomed. They called a bunch of different people and had them send cards, thanking us. We were about forty-five minutes from landing, and they started calling our names off and handing them to us.
<TH> It’s a really neat deal, huh?
It really is. They do a lot of work. A lot of people are supporting this. Different organizations and individuals made donations to the program. The plane was a chartered jet. It wasn’t commercial. The hotel we stayed at in Springfield gave all of us veterans a price break. They really took care of us.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Not really, except that it’s well worth the time for a veteran that served during the Viet Nam era that didn’t get the honor and reception on our return. We, the veterans, weren’t allowed to get anything for ourselves. When it was time to eat or time to drink, our guardian took care of us. They asked us what we wanted, and they went and got it. They said “You’re the serviceman. We’ll take care of you,” and that made it extra special, also. I had a good time, and it was well worth me going.