Travel with me back to the 1960s. The Vietnam War is on. Did it start when the first U.S. combatant died on Dec. 22, 1961? Was it Marine boots on the ground in Da Nang on March 8, 1965. Or was it another date?
Some men were scrambling to avoid the draft: enrolling in college, signing up for the National Guard, burning draft cards, fleeing to Canada, injuring themselves so as to be unfit for service, or claiming that minor medical issues such as bone spurs were of such magnitude so as to exempt them from service.
Mothers have always questioned the timing of the births of their sons — knowing that their sons’ birth years could send them into combat or let them age out before the next American war comes along.
Television nightly news coverage brought the Vietnam War into American homes — the first time ever.
Larry Blackmore, of Troy, Ohio, was born in 1946, which put him in the mix of the vulnerable (his younger brother, Steve, drew a high lottery number, and his brother David was too young to serve). After high school graduation, Blackmore became a student of business administration at the University of Cincinnati. After graduation from college, his draft deferment expired, so in 1968 he opted to join the U.S. Air Force.
Blackmore’s first deployment was to Thailand, but in 1970 he was in Vietnam. He didn’t tell his family that he was there providing security at a unit whose mission was reconnaissance, to seek and destroy enemy combatants, as he didn’t want to worry them.
Thirty years passed and the war was on in Iraq and his nephew, Bradley Blackmore, of Troy, was in a reserve unit that had been activated. All “the Vietnam stuff” that Blackmore had kept secret and stored somewhere in the depths of his mind started to demand attention: flash backs, sleep disturbances, sweats.
In talking with his nephew, he recounted some troublesome combat missions. He also shared two “at the wire” incidents where on night patrol on the outer perimeter of his base his security team fought off attacks by the North Vietnamese Army. American casualties resulted.
Then, it was 2009, and Blackmore was watching a documentary on Honor Flights taking World War II veterans to see memorials in Washington, D.C. His interest was piqued, and he made a phone call. As of the end of 2017, Blackmore has made 61 Dayton Honor Flights as a board member and as a guardian.
The role for which Blackmore has come to assume responsibility with Honor Flight Dayton is called “Honoring Yesterday’s Heroes.” This involves, with each trip, taking 60 to 70 pictures of World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veterans who are either deceased or unable to travel. He photographs their picture in front of their appropriate memorial(s). He then sends the photos he has made and a certificate to the veterans or the veterans’ families — at no charge to the veterans or their families.
Blackmore, 71, never tires of these trips, which begin at 2:30 a.m., at Dayton International Airport, and end after midnight on that same day at the airport.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he reads names on The Wall and knows, “They’re gone. I’m not. I survived. And these other survivors who take the flights with us know that this is a place where they have room and time to grieve.”
Letters of gratitude for this program come regularly:
“It was such a wonderful surprise to receive the Honor Flight materials for our dads in yesterday’s mail — the next best thing to actually making a visit.”
“You must continue this amazing work for the veterans and their families. Good luck to all involved and know that the pictures are being displayed in many homes today. We remember that war (Vietnam), those servicemen involved, and the despair felt by our country.”
“I have been asked what was the most impressive component of the trip — the respect shown by spectators and bikers.”
“The 13 Korean and Vietnam veterans, as well as our 9 Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan veteran chaperones, are still talking about their trip. They forged new friendships on the trip, and I see them each week embracing each other. It definitely was a life-changing experience for all of us, and we will be forever grateful.”
“While visiting our Memorials and the Tombs of the Unknown in Wars in D.C., the Honor Flight volunteer Guardians and Nurses showed us Veterans the most fantastic day of our lives.”
“On departing from the plane, it was something to behold to see the present-day military giving up their time to line up on both sides of the hallway standing at attention and saluting us old veterans.”
Those who volunteer to assist these veterans on Honor Flights must have a commitment to these treasured men and women. Applicants must be 18 to 70 years old; they must have good physical health; they must pay their own way — $450; and they must study training materials. The Honor Flight Dayton office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the phone number is 937- 322-4448 and the address is 2000 Canary Court, Enon, OH 45323. The group is on Facebook, and the email address is www.honorflightdayton.org.
Honor Flights for 2018 are on the following days: April 14, May 19, Sept. 8, and Oct. 27. Perhaps you want to be at the airport to welcome these heroes home after their physically exhausting and emotionally draining day; perhaps you want to be a guardian. Perhaps as a veteran you are finally ready to make the trip.
Now is the time to consider your priorities and arrange your schedule to offer something of yourself to these men and women who have given so much. Your life will be changed forever.
The writer is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or email@example.com.