When 145 Vietnam War veterans return from Washington on Tuesday evening, Honor Flight Northwest Ohio hopes to have a large and appreciative crowd to greet them.
“We encourage people to come out and welcome them home, give them the homecoming they didn’t get 40 years ago,” said Jim Tichy, a spokesman for Honor Flight.
The postseason flight is being held exclusively for Vietnam veterans courtesy of a deceased World War II veteran who told his family before he died that he wanted to sponsor a flight in memory of his late son and all those who served in Vietnam.
Mr. Tichy said the group will start its day in the nation’s capital at the Vietnam Wall rather than at the World War II Memorial, where previous Honor Flights have focused their visits.
James Ballinger III of Whitehouse, who served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1972 and spent six months in the combat infantry in Vietnam, is among the veterans planning to be on the flight.
Mr. Ballinger said it’s “gripping” to think of what this means.
“This is basically the first time I ever could associate the word ‘honor’ with Vietnam veterans because we weren’t honored,” Mr. Ballinger said. “When we came back they told us: ‘Don’t even wear your uniform home.’ I asked why, and they said because they’re going to be protesting.”
Mr. Ballinger, 62, a Jeep retiree, said he has helped send off and greet World War II veterans traveling on Honor Flight many times as a member of the Patriot Guard, which stands in flag lines the veterans pass through.
He said he visited the Vietnam Wall once before with the Toledo Harley owners’ group.
“This will really be something different where I’ll be with Vietnam veterans — 150 of them — it’s going to be pretty good, pretty exciting,” Mr. Ballinger said.
Since its inception in 2007, Honor Flight Northwest Ohio has flown 1,240 veterans to Washington.
World War II veterans have been the nonprofit’s first priority, although nearly 50 Korean War veterans were included in the Sept. 26 flight, which was scheduled as the last flight of the year.
Mr. Tichy said Honor Flight officials found themselves in “a somewhat delicate situation” when the offer came to sponsor a flight for Vietnam veterans.
While their goal is to take Vietnam veterans on the flights once all of the World War II and Korean War veterans have gone, they decided to extend the flying season to October and honor the donor’s wishes.
Mr. Tichy said he’s as excited about this special flight as he was when the first Honor Flight took off in 2008.
“Getting the opportunity to honor these men and women who were treated so poorly just doing service to their country, it’s going to be such an honor to fly with them to Washington, D.C., and even more special to see the welcome they get when they return to Toledo,” he said.
Mr. Ballinger said the lack of respect and appreciation Vietnam vets received is what motivates him to stand in flag lines for other veterans.
“The honor wasn’t there,” Mr. Ballinger said. “Nobody spoke about us other than in derogatory terms. There were not parades. For years, Vietnam veterans were baby killers and drug addicts and everything else. What they didn’t realize was, we were all teenagers. We did our jobs like all the other veterans did.”
The public is invited to attend the send-off and the welcome home on Tuesday at the Grand Aire hangar, which is 1 mile west of the main terminal at Toledo Express Airport near Swanton.
The send-off is scheduled between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. The welcome home is scheduled between 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
To attend, adults must have a valid photo ID. Children being accompanied by adults do not need identification.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.