(Contributed photo) Wayne veterans on the final Honor Flight included (left) Roger Schwanke, Bill Woehler, Bill Kramer and Dennis Jensen. All four are Wayne natives who fought in Vietnam and came back to Wayne to live, work and raise families.

Five Veterans from Wayne take part in final Honor Flight

Five men from Wayne were among the 654 Vietnam veterans who took part in what has been labeled the final Honor Flight organized by Patriotic Productions.

Dennis Jensen, Bill Kramer, Roger Schwanke, Don Simmons and Bill Woehler all served their country in Vietnam and took part in the one-day trip to Washington, D.C. There, they were able to visit the wall listing the names of those who gave their lives while serving in Vietnam, and toured the other memorials in the nation's capital.

Jensen served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971. He first went to Germany and then to Vietnam.

"When I came home from the army, I flew into Omaha and it was pretty calm. My brother, who had served five years before I did, witnessed more protests," he said.

Schwanke was drafted into the U.S. Army when he was 19. He also served from 1969-71 as a PFC on a Fire Base. He too, had a brother who had served in Vietnam.

Jensen said he first learned of the possibility of traveling on the Honor Flight from his son-in-law.

Both he and Schwanke applied to be a part of the trip late last year and were notified in February that they would be a part of the trip.

Woehler served in Vietnam 1968 during the Tet Offensive as a 20 year-old.

"I don't really remember any protestors when I came home. I flew into Denver and put on civilian clothes and came back to Wayne. I just did what I had to do," he said.

Don Simmons grew up in Clarinda, Iowa and enlisted in the National Guard at age 16. He began his active service in 1956 in the Army and attained the rank of Lieutenant, platoon leader and at times, company commander. He spent time in Vietnam from 1966-1967 and then returned to the U. S. where he went to flight school to become a helicopter pilot. He went back to Vietnam in 1968 for another year. 

Later he served in Germany and retired from the military after serving in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.

He found out about the Honor Flight from his neighbor here in Wayne and applied late last year.

The group of veterans met in Omaha on April 30 where they were treated to a supper and "very good entertainment."

They then went to bed for a very short time, because they had to be up by 1:30 a.m.to leave the motel and head to the airport. 

The four planes left Omaha at 5 a.m. and got to Washington, D.C. at approximately 8:30 a.m.

"The flights were organized so that those on each plane were from generally the same part of the state. Our plane was sponsored by Norfolk Iron and Metal and was the "Blue Plane," Jensen said.

Upon arrival in Washington, D.C., the veterans were loaded on busses and taken to Lincoln Memorial. From there, they were able to walk to the Vietnam Wall.

Each of the veterans said he was able to pick out the names of people they knew on the wall, although "there were lots of people around the wall."

The next stop was the Korean Memorial (also within walking distance) and then back on the bus.

The next stop, which was the most impressive for Jensen, was the trip to Arlington National Cemetery. There they witnessed the Changing of the Guard, an event that takes place every half hour and takes eight minutes to complete.

"This has been going on since 1937 and is very impressive. I was also impressed with the size of the cemetery - I did not realize it was that big," he said.

The veterans ate lunch on the busses during their trip with food provided by Burger King, Arbys and Chick-Fil-A.

Other stops on the trip included the World War II Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial.

When it was time to return to Nebraska, those scheduled to return on the Blue Plane spent extra time in the nation's capitol, due to mechanical issues with the plane. 

"We left there at 7:30 p.m. and got into Lincoln about 9 p.m. The reports say there were at least 7,000 people in Lincoln to welcome us home. For me, this was the best part of the trip - to see all those people, including my family there to welcome us home," Schwanke said.

For Simmons, the best part of the trip was the welcome received wherever the veterans went.

"When we got into Lincoln, we got off the plane onto a balcony. There, below us was a sea of people. I couldn't believe it. Everyone was shaking our hands and welcoming us home. People were line up for more than a block,' Simmons said.

He went on to add that the trip was very well organized and "very worthwhile. We were able to talk to other veterans who had had the same experiences we had."

Woehler said the whole trip was "a good deal" and couldn't point to any one part that was his favorite.

Although none of the five men had been to any of the memorials in Washington, D.C. several had seen the traveling wall when it was in Nebraska a number of years ago.

While the veterans were in Washington, D.C., their wives were also be treated to a day on the town in Nebraska.

"We had a scheduled trip to the zoo in Omaha and then went back to the Embassy Suites for lunch and a program. We drove to Lincoln, but others were bussed to the Lincoln airport where we then went to the Glacier Hill Winery in 10 busses," Deb Jensen (Dennis' wife) said.

The women were fed Valentinos pizza and then received a police escort back to the airport.

"It was an awesome day and very emotional. There were people clapping everywhere. It was very memorable," she added.p.m. The reports say there were at least 7,000 people in Lincoln to welcome us home. For me, this was the best part of the trip - to see all those people, including my family there to welcome us home," Schwanke said.

For Simmons, the best part of the trip was the welcome received wherever the veterans went.

"When we got into Lincoln, we got off the plane onto a balcony. There, below us was a sea of people. I couldn't believe it. Everyone was shaking our hands and welcoming us home. People were line up for more than a block,' Simmons said.

He went on to add that the trip was very well organized and "very worthwhile. We were able to talk to other veterans who had had the same experiences we had."

Woehler said the whole trip was "a good deal" and couldn't point to any one part that was his favorite.

Although none of the five men had been to any of the memorials in Washington, D.C. several had seen the traveling wall when it was in Nebraska.

While the veterans were in Washington, D.C., their wives were also treated to a day on the town in Nebraska.

"We had a scheduled trip to the zoo in Omaha and then went back to the Embassy Suites for lunch and a program. We drove to Lincoln, but others were bussed to the Lincoln airport where we then went to the Glacier Hill Winery in 10 busses," Deb Jensen (Dennis' wife) said. The women were fed Valentinos pizza and then received a police escort back to the airport. 

"It was an awesome day and very emotional. There were people clapping everywhere. It was very memorable," she added.

Editor's note: Bill Kramer was not available for the story.

The Wayne Herald

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Wayne, NE 68787
Phone: 402-375-2600
 

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