A trip of a lifetime

Local veteran goes on his own ‘honor flight’ to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.

Local Vietnam War veteran Jim Johnson was taken on his own Honor Flight, by his friends, on Oct. 26. Here he reads the names of the Americans who lost their lives serving in the Vietnam War, including some of his friends. AT RIGHT: A group of local longtime friends had their Vietnam War veteran pal, Jim Johnson, flown to Washington, D.C. last month, so he could see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. From left: Tom Ingleby, Johnson, Matt Schryver and Bill Fitzgerald.

Local Vietnam War veteran Jim Johnson was taken on his own Honor Flight, by his friends, on Oct. 26. Here he reads the names of the Americans who lost their lives serving in the Vietnam War, including some of his friends. AT RIGHT: A group of local longtime friends had their Vietnam War veteran pal, Jim Johnson, flown to Washington, D.C. last month, so he could see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. From left: Tom Ingleby, Johnson, Matt Schryver and Bill Fitzgerald.

More than 58,200 Americans lost their lives during the Vietnam War. Many of the friends, family and fellow servicemen and women they left behind are still haunted by this tragic loss. A group of longtime friends felt their buddy, Jim Johnson, should get to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. so he could pay tribute to his fellow countrymen.

Locals Bill Fitzgerald, Matt Schryver and Tom Ingleby got together and planned a trip of a lifetime for Johnson — a personalized “Honor Flight” of sorts.

“Bill and Matt first talked about doing it, and we just thought it was the right thing to do,” Ingleby said. “It took us 3-4 months to coordinate.”

The group flew to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26, spending a day and a half in the nation’s capital city.

“We found an app where you can key in names [on your smartphone] to find any name on the memorial wall,” Fitzgerald said.

Johnson was overwhelmed by the sight of the thousands of names inscribed on the wall.

“I found a lot of my buddies’ names on the wall, and that really got to me,” Johnson said. “It brought back memories and tears to my eyes.”

Johnson served as a door gunner (a crewman who fires and maintains manually directed armament aboard a helicopter) in the Vietnam War from 1970-71 at the age of 19.

The names engraved on the wall are listed in chronological order, starting at the apex on panel 1E, going day by day to the end of the eastern wall at panel 70E (ending on May 25, 1968) then resuming at panel 70W at the end of the western wall (completing the list for May 25, 1968), and returning to the apex at panel 1W in 1975.

The group have been pals for around 30 years, and enjoy going on fishing trips, golfing and playing racquetball together.

While in D.C., they also visited the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and John F. Kennedy’s Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnson was humbled by the opportunity to take such a trip, while his friends didn’t want to take any credit.

“We just knew this was the right thing to do; any one of us could have gone [to Vietnam],” Fitzgerald said. “Jim is a great guy who was deserving of this.”

“I would never have gotten to go if it wasn’t for these three guys. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Everyone should have as nice of friends,” Johnson concluded.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com