The Waterloo West High School Class of 1965 gave a lot — and paid a dear price — in the Vietnam War. And a large number of members of that class participated in Tuesday’s Cedar Valley Honor Flight, the first of three locally this year.
More than 100 Northeast Iowa veterans of all branches of service from World War II through Vietnam left from the Waterloo Regional Airport to tour U.S. military and other memorials in Washington, D.C.
Included on that flight were seven Vietnam veterans of the West High Class of ’65, as well as Honor Flight coordinator Linda Bergmann, also serving as a veteran guardian on the trip.
They went, in part, to honor classmates who died in Vietnam. Five classmates and the spouse of another were killed in that war. It is believed to be one of the largest numbers of individuals lost out of a single graduating class among the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area high schools of that era.
“We honored all six at our 50th anniversary reunion a year and a half ago.” said Dave Allbaugh, one of the veterans in the class. “While we’re still friends, we don’t get together as much,” The trip was “an opportunity for us to bond and reflect on our service to our country.”
The West Class of ’65 was a large one, with about 660 members, Allbaugh said. It was “a most inopportune time” to be graduating and coming of age, he said, as the war in Vietnam was escalating and more troops were being sent over prior to the early 1968 Tet offensive, when the U.S. had about half a million troops in country.
“Linda Bergmann kind of put us all together for our class,” said Larry DeMaris, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, who served on an RC-135 reconnaissance plane and still speaks fluent Vietnamese.
“The inspiration was all the guys in our class that died in Vietnam,” said Matt Nutt, who served on a Navy gunboat in the Mekong Delta. “We were all 19 years old. Makes me sick.
“Of course the Vietnam wall was what most impressed me. But the World War II, Korea memorials, they’re all very, very important pieces of our history,” Nutt said by phone.
At The Wall, Nutt said, “I found the name of a real close friend of mine — David H. Paulsen.” He was a West classmate and Marine killed near Da Nang in November 1966. “I was home on leave. Dave only lived a block and a half from my folks.” They were close friends.
West ’65 classmate Phil Boyenga served in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. He was wounded in combat May 19, 1969, and was hospitalized until the following January. He was interested in finding comrades’ names on The Wall.
“One of the guys that saved my life got killed at the same time I was wounded,” Boyenga said. He found that soldier and looked for others in his squad.
“It’s pretty emotional. We’re looking up the guys we graduated with now,” Boyenga said at The Wall. “All the people that got killed in Vietnam. All the names on each panel. It makes it hard, I guess. All the memorials — the Korean one and the World War II memorial — are real nice. But this one means the most to me. It’s the war that I fought in, and lost people I was close to.”
“This is great,” Boyenga said of the day. “I’m glad I can take my son (Jordan) so he can see it too.”
“It’s a sobering experience,” DeMaris said. “I’ve stood watch at the traveling Wall” — the Wall that Heals, a smaller scale version scheduled to stop in Cedar Falls later this month. “But the sheer scope of it out here is really awesome.”
“We have different memories of our classmates on The Wall. It creeps into you,” said Loren Homann, a Navy veteran of Vietnam who now lives in Cedar Falls. “You remember them, but you remember them as they were. Young men. We’re standing here and we’re a lot of old guys … . Speaking for myself that is,” he said as his classmates razzed him a little. “But you picture them in your mind’s eye and they’re still young. They lost everything way too soon.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Allbaugh. “I’ve seen this wall a number of times. And every time I’m here, the sheer number of names is overwhelming. These are 10-foot high marble slabs filled with names.”
Another U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran, Tim Cox, was a 1965 East High graduate. He served on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal during a devastating July 1967 fire off Vietnam that killed 134 shipmates. He found them all on one panel on The Wall.
“They have (names) listed by the day they died, and they all died on the same day,” Cox said. He also found a Forrestal memorial at Arlington National Cemetery where 15 of his shipmates are laid to rest. Staff at The Wall and Arlington were extremely helpful.
“This is so neat. It’s fantastic, just … wow,” Cox said. Of The Wall, he said, “The feeling is strange. Quiet. It’s a strange feeling standing there. I talked to other people and they said the same thing.”
Vietnam veterans make up the majority of veterans on this particular flight — a change from several years ago, when the original flights were initiated exclusively for World War II veterans.
The one-day trip also includes a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a stop at the U.S. and Air Force memorials and a tour of Washington.
The veterans were slated to return to a Tuesday evening homecoming reception at the Waterloo airport.
Additional flights this year are Sept. 12 and Oct. 10.
Military veterans from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Grundy and the northern half of Tama counties who served in warm or Cold War peacetime from World War II through Vietnam are eligible.
Applications can be picked up at any of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Waverly Hy-Vee Stores or by going to the organization’s website, www.cedarvalleyhonorflights.org, or the Cedar Valley Honor Flight’s Facebook page. Donations are being accepted to continue the flights.
Questions may be directed to co-organizer Black Hawk County Supervisor Craig White at email@example.com or co-organizer and County Supervisor Frank Magsamen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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