Hey Pops,

Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

We can look back at our recent trip to Washington, D.C., as one that was more than 50 years in the making since that’s how long it’s been since you raised your hand to defend the Constitution against enemies, both foreign and domestic, when you joined the Army.

Puget Sound Honor Flight
The mornings came early, and the days were long, but we got through it together, Dad. The morning musters in the hotel lobby were as efficient as they could be. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

A parade of duty stations around the nation and on foreign lands followed that decision as the decades passed, and you raised your family with a worldview few others could match. We have a certificate from the late First Lady Nancy Reagan citing you for how well our childhood was, but that’s a story you already know. Fast forward to two years ago, when you learned that Puget Sound Honor Flight opened its application enrollment to Vietnam veterans. We just had to make that happen.

The pandemic of recent years stalled our efforts, but we got the news last winter that we were slated for the flight we just took.

Puget Sound Honor Flight
The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns was a tough one for me. I do appreciate how they showed you and the other veterans the highest honor they could. I think he is still polishing his shoes. (If you know. you know.) Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

As you recall, Puget Sound Honor Flight is a local non-profit arm of a national network in other states. They wanted to honor you and other veterans with no-cost flights, meals, tours of national monuments and the sorts of parades and welcome-home festivities you didn’t get when you came back from your tours in harm’s way on behalf of the nation. Seeing that the nation cares and appreciates your sacrifice was great. And frankly, I appreciated that you finally started telling me about your time in Vietnam and opened up about just how rough it was over there for you. I had no idea. It was probably good for you to talk about and hear the stories other veterans shared during the trip.

Puget Sound Honor Flight
Meeting the best man at your wedding to Mom was like visiting a family friend. I feel like I know him. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

What really made it all too real and present for me was the rubbing of Jon Greenley’s name on panel 4E, Line 56 of the Vietnam Memorial Wall of Names. He was younger than you and stood as your best man when you married Mom before you found yourself in Vietnam together. Two Fargo, North Dakota boys suddenly dropped into the jungles of some far-off land must have been surreal. He was an Air Force lieutenant, and you as an Army officer. You two were just kids — he was three weeks shy of his 24th birthday. It must be hard to always remember that he died on your birthday. If I say so myself, you returned to have a full life and raise an amazing family. He is still over there, somewhere near Pleiku, since his remains were never recovered even after all these years.

Puget Sound Honor Flight
It sure was great to have Ben around to not only help push you around but to hear and learn your stories since he only knows you as Grandpa, the human jungle gym, while you watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse when he was younger. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

I really am glad that Ben was able to meet us on the trip since he wasn’t alive when you were in the Army. You were just Grandpa, not “Colonel D” or “Buzzard 6” like I knew, even if you never really brought work home with you. The camouflage pants and grease-painted face sort of gave up hints about what you were doing when you had to go to work for a few weeks in different spots on the globe. Ben has been flirting with the idea of joining the Air Force, but I didn’t tell you that. Even if he joined the “wrong branch,” I know you would be proud that he followed in your footsteps in some way. 

Puget Sound Honor Flight
The parade of middle schoolers thanking you for your service was the perfect end to a great day. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

I know you will be proud of whatever he does as long as he is happy and helps make the world better, just like you did during your entire career.

So rest up and reflect on the trip. We will talk about it later, I hope.

Love your son,

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