Five Abilene veterans tell about going to Washington with the Kansas Honor Flight

Not one of them particularly wanted to go on a Kansas Honor Flight.

“I didn’t know I’d applied for this,” said Bill Marshall

His wife applied in his name about two years ago. It takes a year and a half or two years to be scheduled for a flight.

Marvin Kuntz said he wasn’t interested in going back to Washington, D.C. He’d spent too much time at Walter Reed National Medical Center after being wounded in Vietnam and found the city to be dirty.

“I’ve known about the honor flight, but I wasn’t interested in going,” Kuntz said.

A friend of his son’s talked him into applying anyway.

Not one of them would give up the experience now.

Bob VanDeCreek and Wayne “Butch” Miller returned Thursday afternoon from their three-day trip to Washington, D.C., the last of the 11 Kansas Honor Flights this year.

Bill Marshall got back Nov. 1.

Marvin Kuntz went from Sept. 18-20 and Eldon Woellhof was on the first of 11 flights this year from April 17-19.

Woellhof served stateside during the Korean War, the other four had “boots on the ground” or were “in country” in Vietnam, all in the late 1960s.

“It was one of the greatest trips I’d taken for a long time,” Woellhof said. “It was well worth it and I’d do it again if I had the chance.”

“It was well worth it,” Marshall said.

When Marshall returned in 1966, he was met at the airport by war protesters.

Kuntz was spit on.

“You didn’t talk about being a Vietnam vet,” Miller said.

“None of us did,” VanDeCreek said.

Miller and VanDeCreek met while in Vietnam.

Their arrivals this time were different.

Heroes’ welcome

“I could not believe the reception we got,” Kuntz said. “The whole thing really impressed me. This turned everything around, just the opposite.”

“This deal here was amazing,” Miller said.

“First impression was I wasn’t expecting it. Got off the plane in Baltimore, that reception they gave us was just unbelievable,” VanDeCreek said.

Hundreds lined the airport corridors, clapping and cheering as the vets walked through.

“The only thing, we had to get up early,” Woellhof said, but he didn’t seemed to be seriously upset. “Every morning we had to get up 4 o’clock or better. We covered a lot of places.”

Full days

After getting off the plane in Baltimore, the groups toured Fort McHenry; the National Archives where the country’s documents are stored, including the Constitution and all the service and war memorials.

Whenever possible, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole met the groups at the WW II memorial.

Some of the groups got to lay a wreath in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Miller and VanDeCreek folded the flag when it came down at Fort McHenry.

One of the more emotional moments came one evening during “mail call,” Marshall said. The organizers had contacted each veteran’s family members and had them write letters to be passed out at the mail call.

“That was so awesome,” Marshall said. “Another tear-jerking time.”

The most emotional time was probably returning to Wichita.

“That was just awesome,” Marshall said.

Homecoming

As in Baltimore, there was a crowd meeting them at the airport with cheerleaders and a woman singing “God Bless America.”

Some members of the crowd were a surprise.

Miller’s wife had contacted all six of his surviving brothers and sisters who all came to meet him, some from 400 miles or more.

“It was special,” he said.

Some of Marshall’s family came from even farther. They waved photos of him from his service days pasted onto sticks and held balloons and a banner that said “Welcome, Bill.”

“It was a very emotional day,” he said.

His wife Dee said that was hard to arrange.

“He’s retired and he’s always here,” she said.

“I didn’t know she could be so secretive,” Marshall said, but they are a well-matched couple.

While she was arranging his welcome-home reception, he was arranging a surprise party for her birthday the evening he returned.

Kuntz’s family, too, met him in Wichita.

“Just makes you feel good,” he said, choking up just a bit.

“It was a healing trip, connecting, healing, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I think the country as a whole has become more understanding about what we went through.”

Marshall is ready to go again, this time as a guardian. Guardian and caregivers pay their own way and do everything for the vets.

Marshall was ready to help with some of the wheelchairs, but he was ordered to sit down and do nothing.

Except receive the thanks, however belated, from his country.

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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