SPRINGFIELD — Vietnam Marine Corps veteran Michael Hart of Danville was hit by the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight to Washington, DC, which he took part on Tuesday, but it was a show of appreciation as he and other military veterans returned home which moved him the most.
His family and many other benefactors were in attendance as the flight returned to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield.
“The arrival in Springfield was quite impressive,” said 75-year-old Hart. “The entire airport was full of people. I was blessed with all my family. It was quite special.”
It was a long day for the veterans, each accompanied by a guardian. Hart’s guardian was daughter Cassandra Klein.
“It was a good experience for both of us,” Hart said.
They arrived at the airport at 4am for the start of an 18-hour workday.
“It was very busy,” Hart says. “They planned it to a T. The only time we didn’t do anything was when we were on a bus going to another place. They took care of everyone. They had wheelchairs on the buses” for those who needed them.
The oldest present: a 98-year-old World War II veteran.
Hart earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in a mortar attack in Vietnam.
“When I was hit there were 17 other people (injured), most of them worse than me,” he said.
He lost friends in the war. One of the stops in DC was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where he could find the name of one of his fallen comrades, and his daughter was given an etching of it.
Initially a field radio operator, later he served as a forward observer for artillery, then served in the support coordination center. He was in Vietnam for 13 months.
The 1st Battalion, 13th Marines artillery battery to which he was attached, meets annually for reunions. Last year’s was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Other DC stops included World War II, Lincoln, Washington, Air Force and Iwo Jima Memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery, which he called “a special treat.”
The flight of honour, he said, “is the only group that allows buses to enter the cemetery. They did a special presentation for us.”
“They’re just spic and span and they don’t miss a step.”
Klein said the trip with her father was “something special.”
“I’ve been there a few times and seen all the things,” she said. but making it more meaningful was “get to see … each of the veterans see their own memorial and hear people talk about it and see everyone in DC stop and applaud and say ‘thank you’ and get out of the way. … ( It) really showed their support and honor to everyone.”
Hart, who retired as a golf course warden after 28 years, said he was glad the temperature (80 degrees) wasn’t as hot as in central Illinois.
The trip was the first of five Land of Lincoln honor flights to be made to DC this year. The pandemic has forced flights to be canceled for the past two years.