The notice in the Gazette states that the traveling Vietnam Wall will be staging through McCook tomorrow. It has been doing its patriotic duty in Norton, Kansas, and is moving to Cody Park in North Platte. Last week, Ann and I drove to Norton for a great meal with friends at a new Mexican restaurant. We then went to the site of the traveling memorial to spend a poignant, moving evening.
Vietnam was my war. I find the names of many acquaintances displayed there. A couple, Capt. Mike Klingner and Lt. JG Mike Confer, came from McCook. Klingner, still MIA, died in an F-100F "Misty FAC" in Laos and Confer off the coast at night in an A-4.
Another, Capt. Robert Weskamp, grew up in Denver but spent several summers in McCook working with his Grandmother Minnie Weskamp. Bob died near Hanoi when his F-105D went out of control, probably from battle damage, and he ejected near the speed of sound. Capt. William S. Davis III died in a B-57 on a bombing mission South Vietnam, Capt. Lyn Oberdier victory rolled an A-1 and went in inverted, Capt. Harlow K. Halbower, Anthony, Kansas, shot down in an O-1 (L-19) while protecting Army troops in a fire-fight, Capt. Valmore W. Bourque murdered after safely crash landing his shot up C-123 just over the border in Cambodia, Maj. Gen. William Crumm on an ArcLite B-52 mission, Capt. Sam Waters, F-105D shot down North Vietnam, ejected but killed by enemy troops on the ground, Capt. Tom Derrickson, F-4C North Vietnam, night MIA, First Lt. Hal Zook C-130E exploded when hit by ground fire, and there are more.
It may have been a God thing but when Ann, moving a little slow with her new hip, and I were seated at the memorial program, it was on the front row right in front of Lt. Col. Ramon Horenik from Atwood. Ramon was an F-105D fighter pilot who was shot down and got to spend five and one half miserable years at the "Hanoi Hilton." The Hilton was the POWs euphemism for the notorious Hoa Lo Prison. http://www.scopesys.com/cgi-bin/bio2.cgi... I'd not met Ramon before but of course knew his story. He had spoken at the event the preceding night but we had missed that.
In conversation I asked Ramon if he knew Lynn Guenther from Hanoi. He didn't but explained that as prisoners they were not allowed to mingle with others.
Lt. Lynn had been flying an OV-10 and was shot down on the mountain ridge just west of Hanoi. It was about his second mission north. Shortly after being repatriated, he came to my squadron as a KC-135 pilot. I was honored to have him.
Super attitude about everything! He'd state "Well I have lived in worse places (or done worse jobs) before!" Well, yes, he had been a "guest" of the NVA for a year at least before being liberated. Lynn would sit on alert late at night and tell stories of what it was like living in prison. He harbored no grudge against the Vietnamese people. It was just that the guards did cruel things, in Western eyes, acts that were the norm in their culture.
Later I asked Ramon if he knew my old mentor Quincy Collins. His eyes crinkled with happy recognition and he exclaimed "Well yes. Quincy had been one of his mates in a four-man cell. Quincy was trying to organize a POW choir, but two of us absolutely could not sing!" Ramon went on to say that he will not even sing in church for fear that he would insult the Lord!
The original report that I received was that Quincy had been shot up in his F-105 and ejected down around the DMZ. We who were concerned would receive occasional intelligence reports that he had been spotted walking barefoot, roped together at their necks, with several other prisoners being marched north toward Hanoi. Then he disappeared completely for several years and we presumed him lost.
In 1974 when the first stories began to circulate from returned POWs they spoke of a POW choir. I immediately knew that Quincy had made it. Not long after, the POW choir gave its final performance for President Richard Nixon in the White House. Oh I wish that I could have been in attendance that evening!
You see, James Quincy Collins was a Citadel graduate and had been a 1st Lieutenant assigned to the Air Force Academy as a training officer. It was circa 1955-58 while I was there as a cadet. Quincy was built like a professional football end, tall and strong, hailed from the Carolinas and had a wonderfully Southern accented baritone voice. I knew him as our Cadet Chapel Choir director. Oh, he loved to sing and was a natural leader.
Years later at an Academy reunion I met him again. I related how relieved I was to hear that a POW choir had been formed because I immediately knew who their director was and rejoiced that he was alive. Wonderful man!
And yes I have been to the "real" Wall on the mall in Washington D.C. Quite honestly it was a little tough on my emotions. The Traveling Wall will be in North Platte for only a short time. I urge you to make the trip and experience a heart moving tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives for you and me and deserve to be remembered!
That is the way I saw it.