Kuehner cherishes opportunity to take D.C. Honor Flight
When Marv Kuehner arrived at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids bright and early on Tuesday morning, he already knew he was in for an experience he wouldn’t soon forget. But the Marshalltown Army veteran still couldn’t believe how moving the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight turned out to be.
Accompanied by his son-in-law, Jay Hardiman, Kuehner was one of approximately 100 eastern Iowa veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C. The trip included visits to the World War II, Lincoln, Korean, Womens, Marine Corps, Air Force and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery, and a chance to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Kuehner even got the opportunity to help with the wreath exchange during the changing of the guard.
Hardiman serves as the senior director of manufacturing at Quaker Oats, and the company has sponsored eight honor flights for Cedar Rapids area veterans. Tuesday, however, was the first time that Hardiman had made the trip himself.
“I’m not a veteran, but it was really an honor to be able to help support and experience that with them,” he said. “To go to the Vietnam memorial, (the veterans) have friends and family members who were killed in Vietnam. (So) it got very emotional for them… I think everybody was very humbled, but I very much enjoyed it.”
Family members and friends wrote the veterans letters of love and support that they read on the flight home, and upon their return to Cedar Rapids at about 8:45 p.m., they were greeted like heroes — an unfamiliar feeling for some who had fought in southeast Asia.
“I forgot any ill feelings about coming home after that war. That was just unbelievable,” Kuehner said.
Kuehner, who deployed to Vietnam from 1964 to 1965 with an Army Air Aviation unit and received a Purple Heart, still remembers hearing that his draft number was coming up and making the difficult decision to enlist — along with a friend from his hometown of St. Lucas — so that they’d have more of a say in steering their futures. Kuehner passed the basic tests to qualify for service, but his friend didn’t.
In 1965, the U.S. only had around 175,000 troops deployed in the country, but the number reached 350,000 by the time Kuehner returned to the states and ultimately surged to over 600,000. His duties included supplying infantry units and hauling whatever needed to be removed from a battlefield — including corpses.
“During that time, we supported the Special Forces and whatever else needed to be done, anything. We would haul anything. We had missions every day if you could fly,” Kuehner said. “We supported the troops no matter where they were and what they were doing.”
In the 15 months he was deployed, Marv heard his then-fiance (now wife) Sandy’s voice just once, during a three-minute phone call from Hong Kong. She wrote him letters every day, but he was only able to read them “once in a blue moon,” in her words.
“I didn’t know he was injured. I had no idea until I saw his Purple Heart on him,” Sandy said.
After he was hit and awarded the Purple Heart, Kuehner earned an honorable discharge at the end of 1965 as the war raged on for another 10 years. He still recalls the fear that he felt getting off his flight in San Francisco and the instruction that if he had civilian clothes, he should wear them.
“They really are not liking us coming back (at that time), like it was our fault, but we didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said.
Even when he started classes at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in Mason City, Kuehner said he was hesitant to give any indication that he was a veteran. He eventually became an Industrial Technology teacher at Anson Middle School in Marshalltown, where he settled with Sandy and raised their three children, before transitioning to the private sector and launching his own construction company.
“It’s been a good life here in Marshalltown, and nothing could’ve been much better than yesterday,” he said. “It was such a pleasant day. They took care of us every minute from the time we left Cedar Rapids.”
The VIP treatment didn’t stop for Kuehner when he returned home, as he was greeted with flags planted in the walkway leading up to his front door, a sign that read “Thank you vets! Welcome home,” and personal messages from friends taped on the door referring to him as “our hero.”
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.