At the end of October, KSBY Daybreak Anchor, Neil Hebert, joined Honor Flight Central Coast California on their trip to Washington D.C. Honor Flight takes veterans on an all-expenses paid trip to visit military memorials in their honor, each accompanied by a guardian that pays their own way.
One of the most well-known memorials honoring our veterans is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and it brings back memories of all kinds for our local veterans that see it in person.
The nearly 500-foot-long wall has the names of the more than 58,000 U.S. service members that lost their lives during the Vietnam War. Some veterans say this Honor Flight is in honor of them; those that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Some veterans wear their pride on their sleeves and are able to openly talk about their experience in the service, while others have trouble looking back on how many men and women lost their lives defending our country.
“It makes me sick I when I think about it,” said Jerry Hall, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy. “Other people try and talk to me about it. Sometimes we can talk about it, sometimes we can't, and I start getting real emotional. I try to talk to them, but I just can't most of the time. It saddens me to see how many troops we lost.”
Chuck Belmont, a Navy veteran and guardian on the Honor Flight, was given a special duty while at the memorial. His friend, Dave, from Arroyo Grande gave him three hats to leave at the wall below the names of three friends that lost their lives during the war. Belmont didn’t take that responsibility lightly.
“My brother, brother-in-laws, uncles, all were affected in some way by Vietnam,” said Belmont. “I just felt this was not only for my friend Dave, but for my brother, Lance, my uncles, and for everybody that I've known. Some came back, some didn't. Some came back not quite the same as they went. What it meant to me is just to honor all those.”
Whether it’s on the front lines or helping citizens in war-torn countries become refugees at war’s end, everyone’s service is meaningful. Belmont recalls a conversation with a former barber in Atlanta, unbeknownst of his story.
“We were talking about how he was rescued off the coast of Vietnam by the US Navy,” said Belmont. “I kind of told him what I did because I hadn't talked about it much, and he reaches around me and gave me this big hug and said, ‘You know how I would have ended up.’ Those things make me feel good.”
One thing Belmont made sure to tell me is that every veteran has a unique story and to never group veterans into one category. Let them tell you their experience because it will be different than every other veteran’s.