No matter how much you plan, sometimes it all depends on being at the right place at the right time and being ready to do the job. I was used to sharing a cabinet with Flag Sr and I'd heard about the amazing things he'd had the chance to do, but Flag Sr and Ms Wisc were the traveling flags. I had flown over the US Capitol, but I was the home flag. That is, until a snowy day in March 2018. There was a going away celebration for 50 Vietnam veterans who were leaving on an Old Glory Honor Flight to Vietnam the next day. A good friend of my custodians, Tony, was one of the people leading the trip. They asked if he wanted to take Sr with him on the trip. He said he'd really like to, but he was worried about how safe Sr would be. Sr had flown on a lot of planes so far, so Tony would feel really bad if something happened.
In case you don't know, Vietnam was a pretty nasty war the United States fought in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. It was a hard war to fight, lots of jungles and swamps and things. And maybe the worst part was lots of people in the United States weren't really in favor of us even being there so when the soldiers came home, they weren't welcomed or treated very well. Lots of people died there and many of the men going back on this trip had bad memories of things that had happened there. Even though it was 50 years ago, bad memories can stay really fresh and sharp and continue to bother a person.
Tony and my custodian continued to talk about it and thought about sending me instead. Not that they didn't care what happened to me, but if I got lost it wouldn't be quite as big of a challenge as it would be if Sr was. I was willing. I knew what I should do and I was excited to get a chance. The next morning I arrived at the jumping off point and joined the group, including having some photos taken.
The guys adopted me instantly. The flag is important to all of them so I was out of my bag already on the bus as we were driving to the airport. One really, really neat thing about this trip is that it offered an opportunity for the guys to work through some of the things causing them bad memories. Each man had a challenge coin, that's a special kind of coin made for a specific group or event, and each of them was told they needed to leave that coin at some place special to them in Vietnam. I became part of their stories, leaving the coin in the sand, in a river, in the jungle, any place that was helpful to them. I was so honored and so humbled by their stories and the hard times they had had all these years.
I got to eat with them, travel with them, feel happy with them and feel sad with them. It was an almost unbelievable first trip for me. No matter where else I go and do, these men will always be special to me. Never squander a chance to make friends. They are what keep you grounded and human.
It turned out that I wasn't able to return to the home base with them. The man who coordinated the trip asked if I could go to Iwo Jima with him to celebrate the 74th anniversary of that WWII battle and I went with him while everyone else went home to Wisconsin. But instead of people being mean to these men, like had happened sometimes when they came home before, there was a huge celebration. I've included some of those photos in the gallery as well. It was a fitting end to an amazing adventure.