Gus Gustafson was moved by the acres of crosses at Arlington National Cemetery. / Photo by Jeremy Hodges
Bob Malzahn holds a photo of the helmet his friend, Lt. Carold R. Wait, was wearing when he died serving in Vietnam. Next to it is a rubbing he took of Wait's name engraved on the Vietnam Veteran's Wall in Washington, D.C. Malzahn was one of five Door County Vietnam veterans who took a special Old Glory Honor Flight Aug. 2. / Ramelle Bintz/Door County Advocate
Richard Buelow said coming home on the Honor Flight was very different from his return from Vietnam. / Photo by Linda Henry
Vietnam veteran Tim Hooey, Sister Bay, took a special Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight Aug. 2. / Photo by Linda Henry
For more than 40 years, Bob Malzahn, 74, Sturgeon Bay, has owned a photo of the riddled helmet Lt. Carold R. Wait was wearing when he died while serving in Vietnam. Earlier this month Malzahn sought out Wait’s name on the Vietnam Memorial and took home a rubbing of his good friend’s listing on the wall of heroes.
Malzahn was one of five Door County Vietnam veterans whose names were drawn at random to take a special Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight on Aug. 2 in observance of the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. For several years Old Glory Honor Flight Inc., based in Appleton, has flown World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., for a day that includes tours of the war memorials.
Co-sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association, the flight for Vietnam-era veterans was a special one-time event that flew from Oshkosh as part of the Salute to Veterans celebration at EAA AirVenture.
Door County assistant veterans service officer Deborah Hart sent out 53 applications to those Vietnam veterans who were registered with the office. Door County was lucky to have as many as five names drawn, she said: Only 115 could go of more than 500 submitted.
Malzahn used the opportunity to trace the names of several friends he lost while serving two tours in Vietnam, including his wartime buddy Wait. He enlisted for four years in the Navy as part of the Seabees, which he describes as a self-sufficient construction unit. In October 1964 he was part of a heavy weapons defensive platoon machine gun squad based on Okinawa. His second trip began in September 1966 to build an airfield on the demilitarized zone near Dong Ha.
This was his first trip to the concrete memorial wall engraved with the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam.
“Everywhere we went, people were fantastic,” he said. “It was like black and white from when I got out.”
On his flight back to Sturgeon Bay from Vietnam in 1967, Malzahn was in dress uniform on a flight from Los Angeles. During a layover in Denver, he stayed on the plane when all of a sudden from the seat behind him, a man grabbed him by the neck. The airline stewardesses had to settle the man down.
“You just accepted it,” he said quietly. “That’s how it was then.”
The reception he and his fellow veterans received during his Honor Flight couldn’t have been more different.
“The respect I was shown ... and the smiles ... everybody had a smile,” he said. “There were no arguments, no pushing. It was enlightening.”
Richard Buelow, 66, Sturgeon Bay, also said the contrast coming home this time was remarkable. Buelow enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1964 and in 1967 was sent to Vietnam. He worked in logistics and supply and the Honor Flight was his first trip to see the Wall. The trip gave him some closure on the war, he said, but the experience was gut-wrenching.
Despite never having met before the flight, he said all of the veterans on board had similar feelings. It was so emotional for some, they could not even approach it.
“Seeing the names just makes you think, ‘Why them and not me?’” Buelow said.
But he said the outpouring of support for the veterans was heartwarming.
“When we came back (from his tour of duty), there was nobody other than family and friends,” he said. “This was nothing like it was before.”
Gus (Ricki) Gustafson, who lives in the town of Sturgeon Bay, said there was an instant kinship with everyone on the Honor Flight because they all had been there. Gustafson went into the U.S. Navy in 1966 and made three cruises on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock to Vietnam as a radar operator.
When his tour was up, he said, “Like a lot of guys, you didn’t say you were there. You just came back.”
This also was Gustafson’s first trip to the nation’s capital and Arlington Cemetery, which made a big impression on him.
“There are just so many, all in one spot, of fallen soldiers,” he said. “So many crosses.”
Two other Door County veterans, Timothy Hooey, Sister Bay, who served in the Army, and Dennis Ott, Sturgeon Bay, who served in the Air Force during Vietnam, also made the trip.
Four men from Kewaunee County also were on the Yellow Ribbon flight: Glenn Borths, Casco, Air Force; Ralph Elsholz, Algoma, Army, Gordon Krogh, Kewaunee, Navy, and Richard Young, Kewaunee, Army.
A video documentary was made of the Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight, and both Door and Kewaunee county veterans were interviewed for the project. “Yellow Ribbon” aired on WBAY-TV Channel 2 last week and can be seen online by visiting www.facebook.com/oldgloryhonorflight.
Contact Ramelle Bintz at email@example.com.