SIDNEY — The wheels on the buses will be hitting the asphalt as 40 veterans make their way from Sidney to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials built in their honor on Saturday. A pre departure dinner was held Monday night at the VFW as the veterans and the volunteers exchanged greetings.
This is the 11th trip sponsored by the Shelby County Vets to D.C. committee. The group will depart from the Shelby County EMA building Friday morning at 8 a.m. following a send off ceremony at 7:30 a.m. A motorcycle escort will lead the way for the two buses filled with veterans, their caregivers and volunteers.
“We will have taken 1,200 people (veterans, caregivers and volunteers) to D.C. by the end of this trip,” said Mike Bennett, co-chairman of the Shelby County Vets to D.C. committee.
There are two World War II veterans, six veterans of the Korean War and 32 Vietnam War and Vietnam-era veterans making the trip.
Two Vietnam War veterans making the trip — Tom Hemmelgarn, of Russia, and Bruce Smith, of Covington — met for the first time Monday but called themselves “brothers in arms” and were friends 45 minutes after their meeting. Both men said they are looking forward to the trip and visiting the memorials, especially the Vietnam Wall.
Hemmelgarn, who served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, said he had talked about going on the trip before.
“I retired last fall,” he said of his decision to go on this trip. “I’m looking forward to everything. I’ve heard some stories from the people who have gone on the trip before.”
Hemmelgarn said he visited Custenborder Field earlier this month when the Vietnam Traveling Wall was here. He also visited it five years ago during its stop in Sidney.
Smith, who also served in the U.S. Army, said he was in Vietnam long enough for them to “refuel the plane.” He then went to Bangkok, Thailand, where he was stationed for 10 months.
Hemmelgarn said he visited Thailand for R&R from the battle in Vietnam.
“I want to see the wall to see if my platoon sergeant’s name is on it,” said Smith. “I had heard he had died in Vietnam but I can’t find out if he had died. He was my drill sergeant in basic training.”
Smith said while he was stationed in Thailand they would receive casualty lists “and someone had said they saw his name on the list.”
Bennett outlined the trip for the veterans, including the send-off Friday morning. The Sidney Rotary will have coffee and doughnuts for an early morning snack.
“When you come down Fair Road to the EMA Building, you just need to stay between the flags and you’ll find us,” said Bennett.
Volunteers will be out early Friday morning placing American flags along the route.
Following the send off ceremony, “the wheels will roll at 8 o’clock sharp,” said Bennett.
The group stops every two hours during the trip, said Bennett. Lunch will be provided by The Spot restaurant.
Bennett said Friday night’s meal will be at a five-star restaurant and will be “the kind of meal the best man in the mess hall can only dream about.” The group will dine at Dutch’s Daughter in Frederick, Maryland.
The group will depart early Saturday morning for Arlington National Cemetery, where four veterans — one from World War II, two from the Korean War and one from the Vietnam War – will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After watching the Changing of the Guard, the group will depart for the Marine Memorial and then have lunch in the park.
After lunch, they will arrive at the Lincoln Memorial and a ceremony will be held at the Vietnam Wall, including a wreath laying ceremony. The group will visit the Korean War Memorial, World War II Memorial, the Navy Memorial and Air Force Memorial.
A new stop on the trip, said Bennett, will be at the newly-opened American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. The group will eat dinner at the Mountain Gate restaurant in Thurmont, Maryland. They will return to Sidney Sunday.
Prior to dismissing the group Monday night, each veteran received “travel orders” for the trip.
“You can’t leave until the sergeant gives you travel orders,” said Bennett. “But you’re not going to get paid to go on the trip.”
Bennett issued his own orders to the veterans.
“You will have fun. You will take lots of pictures. Have your volunteer take pictures of you,” said Bennett.
Each veteran received a handcrafted cane made by the Shelby County Woodcarvers. Bennett encouraged each veteran “to raise a little cane” during the trip.
Bennett said the trips to D.C. wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers and the donations from the people of Sidney and Shelby County. There is no cost for the veteran to take the trip thanks to the fundraisers and donations received by the committee. Each caregiver and volunteer pays to go on the trip.
Jim Moorman, Shelby County Veterans Service Office, told the veterans he was “honored to stand before you this evening.”
He said the Veterans Service Office is there to help veterans with claims or any other needs they have.
“I have just a couple of words for you from the bottom of my heart,” said Moorman. “Welcome home.”
All of the pre departure dinners, said Bennett, have been held at the VFW. The group will also meet at the VFW later this year after returning from the trip.
The chicken barbecue for the meal was prepared by Lori and Greg Billing. Members of the VFW, volunteers and Women’s Auxiliary prepared the rest of the dinner.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.