Several Vietnam veterans from Seneca County celebrated Veterans' Day a few weeks early as part of a special Honor Flight Oct. 23. In his will, a World War II veteran anonymously donated money specifically for Vietnam veterans to visit the Vietnam War Memorial and other sites in Washington, D.C.
Reineke Ford of Tiffin donated the use of a van to transport the local veterans from Tiffin to Toledo. The group included Richard Hosang, Dennis Miller, Peter Ringle, Harold Schank and Charles Yaney of Tiffin; Buddy Schwab of Old Fort; Robert Dendinger and Robert Swartzmiller of Bellevue; Clifford and Ron Martin of Attica; and Norbert Phillips of Norwalk.
Dendinger said his friend Norb Phillips told him about the Vietnam flight and convinced him to sign up. Dendinger had seen the traveling Wall in Sandusky and Tiffin, but he wanted to see the original in Washington.
"It was nothing like I thought it would be going down there," Dendinger said. "It really hits you. These around here were nice, but they just didn't get the feeling that you had down there."
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known by many as simply "The Wall," he was able to find the name of a friend from Bellevue whose remains were brought home the day Dendinger got back. Also, he met up with a former schoolmate, Bud Schwab, who had been in his wedding. An Army veteran, Dendinger served 1967-68 in Vietnam.
"I was anywhere south of Saigon, clear down to the Mekong Delta and over to the Cambodian border," he said. "I was a specialist 1st class in an artillery unit, 155 self-propelled Howitzers."
Although Dendinger was disappointed at not being able to buy souvenirs, he was pleased with a commemorative book and photos he received to take home. When the group got a bit behind schedule, a motorcycle police escort showed up to get them back to the airport on time.
"That was the highlight of the trip," Dendinger said. "People were so nice. It just hit me in my heart, up at Toledo and Washington, D.C. All the little kids, the Boy Scouts and parents that came out and showed us a little respect that we never got It's a day I'll never forget."
Schank, another Army veteran, said he heard about the Honor Flight from his friend Charles Yaney. In turn, Schank spread the word to a couple of men he knew. Schank had visited Washington, D.C., some years ago to chaperone a group of school children. This time, his only responsibility was seeing the sights and enjoying the day.
"I was in Vietnam '67 and '68, and I was in a chemical company. Our unit was attached to the 11th Engineers up on the northern part of Vietnam," Schank said.
Upon his return from the war, Schank said he did not expect a pat on the back for doing his duty, but he did appreciate the opportunity to take the trip. He called Northwest Ohio Honor Flight "a super organization."
"The best part of it was the reception when we left and came back," he said. "It was just great, with all the people that were there. It was definitely an emotional trip home I bet there was 1,0001,500 people at that hangar."
A group of students from Fremont got up early and came to the breakfast before going to their classes. The thank-you letters from school children also were memorable for Schank, along with the van to carry all of the vets to Toledo.
"It was really nice of Reineke to do that for us," he said.
Schank hopes other veterans will take advantage of the opportunity to see the war memorials through Honor Flight. He is hoping to get everyone from Seneca County to sign a thank-you letter to be forwarded to the family that provided funds for the flight for Vietnam veterans.
Veteran Miller served in an Army artillery 108 Howitzer mobile unit in 1966-67 near Pleiku in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He had not seen the Vietnam memorial before.
"My cousin was killed the same time I was over there, so this way, I got to visit The Wall and got his name inscribed on a piece of paper from The Wall. Arlington (National) Cemetery was really great, also," Miller said.
He mentioned the wreath presentation at The Wall, the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington, and the police escort. When the veterans returned to Toledo for the welcome home reception, Miller was impressed with the band and the people who came out to thank them. He also learned a friend of his who now lives in Bowling Green had been on the trip.
"We grew up almost together and we were on the same bus and everything. I didn't even recognize him until at the end, when they called his name out," Miller said. "Being the first Honor Flight for Vietnam vets for Northwest Ohio, I was really glad I was able to go."
Schwab echoed Miller's feelings of gratitude for the experience. The nice weather and "good company" on the way to and from Toledo added to the memorable day.
"The Wall, of course, was a real tear-jerker. There were so many people that gave their lives through the Vietnam War," Schwab said. "This was my first trip. My wife and I plan to go back there again sometime in the future."
An Army veteran, Schwab had been drafted, serving in Germany as a medic 1963-65. He also was impressed with changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, the crowds who turned out for the receptions and the police escort.
"They cleared a path like we were super-somebodies. ... On the return to Toledo, so many people were there waiting. It was emotional. ... I'm glad I had a chance to go to that," Schwab said.
Charles Yaney had served as a photographer on the May 18, 2011, Honor Flight for World War II veterans. Although he had stopped at all the sites before, he had been preoccupied with his responsibilities.
"This time, they wanted me to be a veteran instead of a photographer," He said. "They wanted me to go to receive the benefits rather than feel obligated to do the work."
His military service took place in the Army, 1970-71, in Ethiopia. Charles worked in satellite communications. His unit's primary function was to monitor communications for the president any time he was flying in the area.
His son, Chad, is vice president of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio.
"They've got quite a network, going through Washington, D.C. It's come a long way since they started," Charles said.