The mission: take veterans and Gold Star Families from West and West Central Texas to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials built in their honor. This year, 86 veterans were on board. Six of those were Korean War veterans, and the rest were veterans of the Vietnam War.
There are several stops throughout the three-day trip. On the flight to D.C., the veterans get taken back in time when they get mail call. These letters, cards, and drawings are done by elementary school students from around West Texas.
Once the flight lands and the veterans enter the airport in Baltimore, they are shown more support. Volunteers from the Honor Flight network greet them on arrival. Strangers from all over the globe even stop to applaud, shake their hands, and take photos.
Then it’s off to the three charter buses. Stop after stop, the veterans are greeted, applauded, and hailed as the heroes they are.
While this trip is healing, it can also be difficult for some veterans. On each flight, there is always a variety of medical professionals and a chaplain and counselor available. But there’s no denying this flight is also a lot of fun.
When the veterans return home, most of their families say they’ve changed for the better.
They are often energetic and all around happier. They also have an easier time opening up about the past.
The Permian Basin Honor Flight is always totally and completely free for veterans.
On the flights, we often meet other veterans from around the nation – but there’s no limit to the meaningful encounters the group can have.
At the Lincoln Memorial, we met Priest Truth.
“I love to tell my age. I’m 71 years old,” said Truth.
She goes to this area for at least two hours a day, six days a week, to pray for people and preach. She says she’s been in ministry for more than 40 years.
The organizers of the honor flight, all volunteers, also book guest speakers to address the group during dinner time.
“It’s a way for me to give back,” said Truth. “Sharing my story allows those who served, especially those who served in Vietnam, as I mentioned, at a time when service was unpopular and came back without the thanks of a grateful nation.”
Kim Mitchell is a Senior Advisor and VSO liaison for the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
She says she strives to connect veterans to the benefits they have earned. She is also a speaker and advocate for veterans.
“Before they blew up the bridge, there was one last survivor who stumbled across the bridge carrying a bundle, and when they went to investigate, that bundle was a baby wrapped in a towel and placed in a hat. And he asked this gentleman and said, is this your child. And he said, ‘No I found her on the side of the road trying to nurse on her dead mother, but I can’t take her any further,” Mitchell said.
That baby was taken to an orphanage and eventually adopted by a US Airman who brought supplies to the children.
That baby was Kim Mitchell.
“My small part — I’m able to show them that they did something that resulted in my life. Being able to share and now give back and that they have a part in this overall impact that I’m trying to have,” Mitchell said.
The main message she wants to share is one of hope and gratitude.
“I would like to share to Vietnam veterans that you are my why,” said Mitchell. “I am able to do everything that I do because of you all. It is because of your service. It is because of your lives. It’s because of who you are.”
James Flint was in the air force during the Vietnam era. After basic training, he wound up in San Angelo at goodfellow air force base. From there, he went to Japan where his job was to gather intelligence.
“I’m one that still believes my oath is still valid and I wasn’t supposed to tell any of these things,” said Flint. “But I was there, and it was at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in the summer of ’64, and we were on high alert and literally minutes away from possible major war.”
Keeping his oath, James doesn’t talk much about what happened during the years he served but one thing he does share is his unique love story.
In 1966, James met a woman named Yvonne at College Hills Baptist Church. He said they sat together during the services for a couple of months then asked her father, a Chief Master Sergeant if he could take her on a date.
“And here I am, an airman first class, and I was scared to death,” said Flint.
They did go on that date, but…
“She dumped me,” said Flint.
Fast forward a few years, Flint married and had many wonderful decades with Ruth. They planned to move to San Angelo to a retirement community. That’s when Flint called a friend to help him look for houses.
Yvonne answered that call.
“And then Jim called out of the clear blue sky, and usually people screen their calls,” said Yvonne. “Well, I answered the phone. And he wanted to know, ‘Do you remember me?’ and I said, ‘Vaguely… we went out on that one date one time.'”
However, before any plans could be made, Flint’s wife, Ruth, suddenly got sick and died a short time later.
Back in San Angelo, Yvonne was also grieving the loss of her husband, Bobby.
“He got sick because of stuff that he was exposed to, and he passed away on May 11, 2013, and I was a widow for a long time,” Yvonne said.
Now reconnected, Yvonne and Flint decided to meet up in San Angelo.
“And at the exit, I said to her, will you marry me? And she looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything. Not ‘what did you say’ or anything, but two days later, she accepted, and we were married in November of 2020,” said Flint.
The pair now focuses on all the good things in life and try to always be positive. Flint even recently accomplished a lifelong goal.
“A doctor of ministry from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,” said Flint.
He got that doctorate just two months shy of his 80th birthday.
“There is no deadline unless you’re dead,” said Flint.
After all they’ve been through, separately and together, both say it’s made them stronger and despite the pain, they keep moving forward with no deadlines in sight.
“I don’t have any regrets, and he’s a kind, loving person,” said Yvonne.
The Korean War began in the summer of 1950. North Korea invaded South Korea, and the United States entered the war to aid South Korea. Records indicate that more than 5 million people died during the war that lasted from 1950 until an agreement was signed in July 1953.
The Korean War is often called “The Forgotten War.” This is due to the lack of publicity and public knowledge about the conflict.
One stop on the Permian Basin Honor Flight includes the Korean War Memorial. This memorial was officially opened in July 1995.
There, 19 stainless steel statues represent the Marines, Army, Air Force, and Navy service members sent to fight. On a black granite wall are photographs from the Department of Defense of unidentified servicemen who were killed or served in the Korean War.
One of the goals of the Permian Basin Honor Flight is to let Korean War veterans know that what they did is not forgotten and that they are not forgotten.
However, on this day, another group wanted to share that same message.
“Without the US soldiers, Korea is nothing, now, like North Korea, same thing. The government without the United States is nothing,” Frank, a tour guide from South Korea, said.
This group from South Korea and our group from West Texas didn’t need to speak the same language to understand each other.
Many from this group could not wait to thank the six Korean War veterans in person. They simply wanted to shake their hands or simply touch the hands of the men who fought on their behalf.
“Didn’t do a whole bunch, but I was over there serving. I spend 18 months over there,” Korean War Veteran Richard Faseler said.
“In fact, I spend two Christmases over there,” said Fasseler. “People can hardly believe that, but I was over there that long. I was very fortunate, though. We had barracks and slept in good every night, so I have no complaints. The good lord took care of me.”
When asked what it meant to him to have people from South Korea give their thanks, Fasseler said he appreciates it more than many might think.
“You know? Sometimes you think the Korean War is forgot about,” said Fasseler. “But it’s real. It’s real.”
At this memorial, on this day, everyone saw just how real it was.
“US Army, US Air Force, US Marines, respect. Thank you,” said Frank.
Sonora native Lydia Ramon and her husband, Richard Ramon of San Angelo, candidly shared their story. They met before Richard was sent to Vietnam. He served as an infantry medic.
Richard says life after Vietnam is difficult. He was diagnosed with PTSD, heart problems, and many other medical issues making him 100 percent disabled. After many years, he said he finally got services from the VA, for which he is grateful.
He and his wife both recommend reaching out to get medical help and therapy.
“Someone was looking out for me, and I know who that was,” said Richard. “He was protecting me, and he was protecting me the whole time. Then, he brought me home early. I have to give my lord and savior for everything he’s done for me.”
To finish off this round of coverage, we hear from veterans Alvin Owen, Leroy Hunt, Ramone Armendariz, and David Deloney.
Check back for more stories from the Permian Basin Honor Flight within the next few weeks.