First Nebraska Vietnam Hero Flight Takes Off with Hall County Veterans

By Megan Johnson, Reporter

Grand Island, NE - Limos drive up to the Central Nebraska Regional Airport before dawn’s early light, and dozens of veterans check into the terminal.

“We’re getting ready to fly to Washington DC and have a good three days,” explains Gary Bohnart of Wood River.

Sunday’s departure is not Hall County’s first ‘hero flight.’ Don Shuda, the Hall County Veterans service officer, says they’ve been doing them since 2010. But this one, he says, does have extra significance.

“This is the first Vietnam flight out of Nebraska, in fact, so we’re honored to be the leader in the Vietnam veterans to DC era,” says Shuda.

Shuda says many of these vets didn’t get the homecomings they deserved back in the 60s and 70s, so he says this is a way to say thanks.

“We’ve got 162 folks on this flight; we’ve got 79 Vietnam vets with their escorts, whether that be their spouse or family member, so this is an exciting day for our veterans,” he says.

It’s a very early morning with a 6 a.m. boarding time, but there’s already excitement as the veterans get lanyards and name tags and don their new black caps with VIETNAM and Hall County Nebraska Veteran emblazoned across the front.

Many say visiting the wall that honors their war will be special as they do it together.

“I seen that years ago, but I definitely want to see it again,” says Bohnart. “It’ll be a complete different situation, getting to see all the places in DC with fellow vets.”

“It’s going to be with veterans that have served, and a lot of these I know haven’t seen it, so it’s a very emotional time,” says James Brettmann of Grand Island.

The Vietnam Memorial will be their last stop before heading home, but organizers say the hero flight will hit the ground running with monument visits, a night tour, and a big banquet planned.

“I’m anxious to see the rotunda in the Capitol, get to see that this time, and just seeing the memorials, they’re quite fascinating and moving,” Brettmann says.

It will definitely be a whirlwind trip, but these Hall County men and women are ready.

“Oh, it’ll be very well worth it,” says Bohnart.

Click HERE to stay up to date with the Vietnam Hero Flight, and watch for coming details about their return on Tuesday.

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