Central Valley Honor Flight


For The Madera Tribune

Local veterans, David Garcia, left, and Andrew Rios will be going on an Honor Flight on September 12.

 

Veterans from Madera who will be on the next Honor Flight are David Garcia and Andrew Rios. They will leave from Fresno on September 12, and will be returning on Wednesday, September 14, at about 6 p.m. If you know these two heroes, please give them a call and wish them well. To greet them as they return, be at the airport early to get a good parking space. Andrew has promised to take many pictures and share his experience with the Tribune when he returns.


Back in 2019, I was fortunate enough to go on the first all-Vietnam Veterans Honor Flight to go back east to Washington D.C. If I remember right, there were about 65 of us. We went to Arlington to see all of the war memorials. I want to let everyone know about my experiences on the trip.


It started at the Fresno Airport, and a brief welcome by Paul Loeffler (Hometown Heroes) and Congressman Jim Costa. That airport was also full of people to see all of us off.


Every place we went back there was a big deal. At the airport where we landed, people were greeting us. Tour buses were ready at the airport. We had a barbecue dinner at the local VFW there. When we walked in, there were women on both sides of us kissing us on the cheeks leaving big red lipstick marks. We then went to our hotel rooms. The next morning at about 6:30 a.m., we had breakfast, then loaded in buses to Arlington.


We saw the Marine Memorial (Iwo Jima), WW11 Memorial, Korean Memorial, enjoyed an Air Force luncheon, then off to the Navy Memorial. Then to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I was ready with the names of all five of my buddies that I left on the battlefield in Vietnam to find on the wall. I looked up the night before what plate and line number their names were on. I got to the wall. When I saw the first name, I was done. I didn’t want to see the others.


We went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. That was something. I then turned around and for the first time, saw all of those hills, with all of those white crosses standing up high and in a perfect line. I thought of my buddies, then had a melt-down. I was done. It was tearing my heart out, even after more than 50 years. I thought of their families and what they missed out on not being able to see their children grow up. Most of those heroes were 18-20 years old.


I took my oldest granddaughter, Della, with me as a companion. That day she saw a side of me that nobody except my wife has ever seen. Anyway, we continued to the Women’s Memorial Museum. Then on to The Smithsonian and Space Museum. That was all over 3 days’ time including traveling back and forth. Every day we were up at 5 a.m., and didn’t get back to relax at the hotel until at least 8 p.m. I would not change any of this for the world.


On our trip back, I was sitting there thinking, “Wow. What a trip. We saw it all in those three days.” Then, on the plane, one of the counselors got on the microphone and started to yell out, “Mail call. Mail call.” I thought, is he crazy? I haven’t heard that since the days in Vietnam. He had a stack of letters, cards, and just notes on pieces of paper. He was calling out my name, also. Then again, and again. I thought, how I could be getting mail there? What I didn’t know is they asked my family and friends to write me letters to read on the trip home. They also got letters from students at local schools to write us letters.


When they were all given out, all you could hear was the opening of envelopes and veterans crying, including myself. All of us had no idea this was going to occur. Wow.


Then we landed back at Fresno Airport.


We went in the door and all I could see was Navy soldiers, lined up in their perfect white uniforms, shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the walkway, at attention. When we got inside, they all saluted us. Tears were rolling down our faces. Then, when we made it inside the terminal, there were hundreds of people greeting us, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. You talk about tears. None of us could say anything.


It was quite an experience that I would not trade for anything and will cherish that memory for ever. It was sure different than when we came home from the war. People were calling us names that I would not repeat.


Anyway, I thought that I would tell my story due to there are Honor Flights coming in Wednesday, September 14, and Wednesday, October 19. They will be landing about 6 p.m. If you decide to go, it will be well worth the trip. But get there early to get a parking space and be there to greet those heroes. They all deserve it.


I hope to see you at the airport. Any comments or suggestions, email me at AboutVets@yahoo.com.


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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,


1st Cav/9th Infantry