A long-awaited thank you: Vietnam and Korean war veterans honored for service

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 1:25 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KFYR) - When those who fought in the Vietnam and Korean wars arrived home, there wasn’t any fanfare or celebration. There was no applause and no thank yous.

Slowly, a group of volunteers is changing that.

This week, a group of more than 100 North Dakota veterans who served in Korea and Vietnam finally got their welcome home.

The veterans spent two days in Washington, D.C. on the Western North Dakota Honor Flight.

They saw the memorials in their honor. For many, it was another step in the healing process.

Joe Short is a friend to everyone he meets. And Short meets a lot of people. The U.S. Coast Guard vet has spent the last 15 years making new friends and welcoming veterans to his city.

Short is the welcoming committee for veterans on this Western North Dakota Honor Flight.

“It is an honor each time,” said Short.

These veterans served in Korea and Vietnam. Back then, there were no welcome home parties or thank yous.

On this Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., the thank yous came around every corner.

“These are our heroes,” said a passerby. She and the rest of her group paused outside the U.S. Capitol Building to give the veterans a round of applause and thank them for their service.

Inside the Capitol, more applause, this time from a group of tourists, kids and adults.

It was enough to move Vietnam veteran Bill Marlenee to tears.

“It just got me. It wasn’t like this when we came home in the ‘60s, just to see that many people,” said Marlenee.

Byron “Pete” Baker served four years in the Navy.

“It was one of the best things I ever did,” said Baker.

This stop at the Navy memorial brought back memories from his days as a sailor. He served three years, nine days during Vietnam.

Rodney Miller spent a year in Vietnam; first in the infantry, then as a helicopter crew chief.

“Look at this wall. There are 59,000 young men who didn’t come home,” said Miller.

His buddies, Tracy Tenhoff and Larry Jacobson, are among the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“I was one of the last ones to see Larry alive,” Miller recalled.

It was important to Miller to find their names.

Allan Morris found an old friend here too; one of three high school classmates from Mott who died in Vietnam.

“I just feel lucky. I feel so sorry so many people got killed,” said Morris.

All of them are listed on the wall.

“He was so young,” said Bob Betchner, an Army veteran who was searching for a friend’s name on the wall.

Seeing this memorial proved to be more difficult than many vets expected. Still, they say it was healing.

Their arrival home brought even more healing, and even more thank yous and tears.

Hundreds of people — friends, family and strangers — gathered for a welcome home celebration decades in the making.

“I’m overwhelmed. Totally overwhelmed,” said Korean veteran Ralph Miller as he saw the crowd gathered at the Bismarck Airport.

“What a surprise!” exclaimed Morris when he saw the crowd.

A surprise these humble heroes will never forget.

This was the third group of veterans to go on the Western North Dakota Honor Flight and the second trip this year.

The experience is provided at no cost to the veteran.

Every veteran on the trip has a story to share. We’ll spend the next few weeks learning more from several of the veterans who were on this trip.

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