53 veterans prepare for their Return to Nam
Fifty-three Vietnam veterans from Northeast Wisconsin will soon make history on the first ever honor flight back to Vietnam.
Over the weekend, the veterans gathered with Old Glory Honor Flight staff ahead of their two-week journey next month.
The veterans were randomly selected out of more than 500 who applied to be a part of Old Glory's all-expenses paid "Return to Nam."
Fifty years later, Vietnam remains deep inside most of them.
"Oh, it's still difficult, oh yeah. You never forget that. Never," says Tom Van Lanen from Green Bay.
"You see a lot of guys get injured, get killed, and over the years you have a lot of nightmares," adds his brother, Dale Van Lanen from De Pere.
The Van Lanen brothers are among 53 Vietnam veterans set to embark on Old Glory Honor Flight's "Return to Nam" on February 24.
"A chance of a lifetime, actually, because I was thinking of someday going back and then all of a sudden this trip came up," says Arnie Weyers from Hortonville.
"At first I was very nervous when he got picked, but after being at the meetings, he is going to be so well taken care of," adds Arnie's wife, Mary Weyers.
At Belmark in De Pere Saturday, many of the veterans met for the first time and received the trip itinerary from Old Glory staff.
"We are going to be like a family going forward here," said Old Glory Honor Flight board member Scott Delsart during the presentation.
The veterans also received shirts, compression socks and hats.
Rick Chouinard from Crivitz brought a friend along to the meet and greet: a homemade Snoopy from his sister he received as a Christmas gift while serving in Vietnam.
"And he's been up in every house I've lived in since I got out of the service, and I was going to mention taking him back as a mascot and let the guys have photo ops with him if they so desired. I think it'd be really cool," says Chouinard, holding the Snoopy.
During their two weeks in Vietnam, the veterans will travel from Saigon to Hanoi, returning to areas they fought and lost brothers in arms.
Honor Flight board members expect a wide range of emotions.
"From happy to sad, potential anger, potentially reliving some trauma, but also with that comes healing," says Delsart.
The vets will also meet some of the Vietnamese men they fought against.
"Just to say I'm sorry for what happened, it's going to be hard," says Dale Van Lanen.
"Years ago I don't think I would go, but times have changed," adds Tom Van Lanen.
Action 2 News has the privilege of joining the veterans on their "Return to Nam" journey.
Anchor Jeff Alexander and photojournalist Bill Kumbalek will capture their experiences in nightly reports on Action 2 News.