Veterans with Utah Honor Flight pay respects to fallen friends

May 4, 2023, 7:16 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm

WASHINGTON D.C. — A group of 75 Utah veterans returned to the Provo Airport last night to huge hero’s welcome after a two-day trip to Washington DC. The Utah Honor Flight was a chance for the veterans to visit the memorials dedicated to their service and pay respects to those who didn’t come home. Since it started nearly a decade ago, the Utah Honor Flight has taken 42 flights to Washington.

Veterans like Marv Evans of Eden had a chance to reflect upon their service and see the memorials for the first time.

“It made me grow up. “In a hurry,” Evans said as he looked over the Korean War Memorial.

He went off to the Korean War in 1953, and said the brutal battles helped him sort out life’s priorities, and understand the value of family and human life itself.

“Many of the young men I served with who never came home,” he said.

He contemplated the horrors of war and said it made his heart ache to be at the Memorial.

“The Korean War, when we came home, was a lot like the Vietnam War.,” Evans said. “People were protesting and they didn’t think too much of you.“

He’d like to forget that chapter in life. But he keeps the memories of fallen friends alive in his heart.

This flight, sponsored by the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, honored veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the gulf war.

Two Vietnam War vets had an especially exciting trip. Douglas Sunderland got married before he headed off to battle in December 1969. His best man was Dwayne Story, also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day, Saints, who he met in basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington.

“We just enjoyed each other, and both from Utah,” Sunderland said.

They lost touch after the wedding, and had not spoken to each other for more than 50 years until Sunderland heard Story’s name during mail call on the Honor Flight headed for Washington.

“I thought, wait a minute. It couldn’t be,” Sunderland said.

So, leaders with the Utah Honor Flight decided to find out.

“The guy in charge of my bus came and says, were you the best man at a wedding in 69? I said yes,” Story said.

“I found out this morning that it was definitely the Dwayne Story that I knew,” said his friend.

Seeing each other after all these years.

“It was great,” said the best man.

They will always remember this trip and plan to keep in touch.

“Great friends, then, and still are. Just a chance of quite a reunion in Washington, DC,” said Sunderland.

During the last decade, Utah Honor Flight has served 2300 veterans, on 42 flights, and they pack a lot of valuable memories into a two day trip. There are a few sites on the Utah Honor Flight more impressive than the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Julian and Rueben Lovato were humbled. Julian fought in World War II and his son, Rueben, was a Vietnam Era Veteran.

“Both of us, different wars, you know,” Rueben said. “He’s one of the lucky ones. Even though he was combat wounded, he’s glad to be here.”

Julian had wanted to be on the trip for four years, but had health problems.

“This year, he said, I think this is it,” said the son. “He says I need to go and pay my respects to all of the brothers that didn’t come back.“

Both men prayed for those killed in battle at the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Wall.

“I’m getting a lot out of it. It’s world-changing for me,” said Rueben.

The first Honor Flight, 10 years ago, was made up entirely of World War II Veterans. But their numbers are dwindling, so Utah Honor Flight is a great opportunity to include those who fought in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

David E. Atkinson went to the Vietnam War Memorial looking for the name of one of his friends, Lynn K. Powell. They served in ROTC together at Brigham Young University.

“He went down in a 105 over North Vietnam, and then, for some reason, the bad guys took him and put him on the wing of his airplane and took a picture and published it a Russian magazine,” Atkinson said. “Somebody came to me and asked whether that was Lynn Powell, and I had to say yeah it was.”

Atkinson believes that was a propaganda ploy. Visiting the memorial stirred deep emotions for the veteran.

“It’s a difficult situation because all of these memories come flying back to you,” he said.

The war changed his direction in life: he served 30 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel.

“You know what I realized in Vietnam? I realized what’s important in life,” said Atkinson.

Family, friends and service rose to the top of those priorities.

“I call it a realization of values, and it wasn’t the degree and the money and the real estate and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s nice. But when you get down to your core inside, it’s all you’ve got that lasts.”

Dale Andreoli went to the Vietnam Wall to honor one of three friends he signed up with.

“Dennis Lee was one of them,” said Andreoli. “He was sent to Vietnam while I was sent to Germany.“

Lee’s brother also went to war. A year later, back at home, Andreoli was visiting their father, who was excited about Dennis coming home soon.

“A week before Richard Lee came home he was killed in action,” Andreoli said. “It was a really sad situation, knowing that his dad lost his son, and two had to go to Vietnam.”

He still struggles with thoughts of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while he came home healthy.

“It really hurts me inside.”

But, the Honor Flight helped him reconcile some of those feelings.

“This is the ultimate part of it: this Vietnam Wall,” Andreoli said.

The public showed their gratitude for the sacrifices of the veterans at a hero’s homecoming Wednesday night at the Provo Airport. A couple hundred people, including friends and families of the Utah Honor Flight veterans showed up to give them the kind of homecoming parade they never got after their battles. The magnitude of the homecoming caught them by surprise and left them feeling honored.

One of the veterans on the Honor Flight is offering to match $10,000 in donations. If you’d like to get that match, make a donation on the Utah Honor Flight website, and in the message box, put ‘Mission 42.’

You’ll also find applications for upcoming Utah honor flight if you know a veteran that should make the journey.

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Veterans with Utah Honor Flight pay respects to fallen friends