Army veteran Michael Cooke of Scottsbluff served in the military from 1966 to 1969. After basic training, he was sent to Vietnam in January 1967, serving on a helicopter crew.
“I was fortunate. I couldn’t have asked for a better job,” Cooke said. “I was out rescuing our guys who were wounded in battle.”
Cooke spent 20 months assigned to a medi-vac unit at Pleiku, Vietnam, eventually serving as a crew chief on his helicopter.
This month, he will finally be able to visit the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., and hopefully locate the names of 11 fallen comrades. That figure includes one man who died in what Cooke called an especially tragic incident after the soldier took Cooke’s place on the helicopter, which then crashed.
Cooke will be one of 13 veterans, which includes two guardians who are also vets, taking part in Honor Flight 11. The group will leave Chadron June 20 following a 9 a.m. send-off ceremony at the Chadron American Legion.
Cooke applied for the Honor Flight about five years ago, and is thrilled his turn has finally arrived to make the trip.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to know these guys,” he said of his fellow veterans.
Among the other veterans attending are a grandfather-granddaughter veteran pair, and a father-son set of veterans.
Charles Jensen of Alliance served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1954, stationed in Pusan, Korea, as a military policeman. He’s taking the trip with granddaughter Jennifer Jensen, who is also in the Air Force and presently stationed in Cheyenne, Wyo. She works in personnel and is looking forward to sharing the trip with her grandfather.
“Just being part of that is a special honor,” she said.
Gerald Oleson of Crawford served in the army from 1961-1964, spending most of his stint at Fort Hood, Texas, as a military policeman. His son, Nathan, also a veteran will accompany him on the trip. Being able to share it with him, as well as the camaraderie he says he is sure he will experience with the other veterans are expected to be highlights for him, Oleson said.
The younger Oleseon was a Navy hospital corpsman and combat medic from 1990-1994. He was stationed at Great Lakes, Ill., and Naples, Italy, working in recruitment and processing centers.
“Spending time with my father, that’s the biggest thing for me,” he said of the upcoming Honor Flight. “It’s kind of a bucket list thing for both of us.”
Larry Blunt of Chadron served in the U.S. Navy from September of 1965 to July of 1969, enlisting in that branch of service after talking to both Navy and Air Force recruiters.
“The Navy guaranteed me a Class A school, and I ended up going to two of them,” said Blunt, who spent his time in the service working in personnel.
He was first assigned to the USS Canberra, a cruiser that operated north of the DMZ shelling bridges, transport routes and shore installations. He spent 10-11 months aboard the Canberra before being assigned to the USS Shelton, a destroyer, for the next two years.
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During his time overseas, he spent 14 days in Melbourne, Australia, and saw places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo.
A Chadron veteran who was injured twice during his time in Vietnam will also take part in Honor Flight 11. Michael Pascale served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam after his service with the Army began in 1966. He completed two tours in-country, stationed at Bien Hoa. Pascale earned two Purple Hearts during his service, after being shot and taking shrapnel on two separate search and destroy missions.
He is most looking forward to visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
LeRoy Fry of Alliance enlisted in the Air Force in 1968, completing his initial training at Lackland Air Force Base and in Biloxi, Miss. His first assignment took him to Peterson Field in Colorado Springs, Colo., before he deployed to Vietnam from 1970-1971. He finished his career in the Air Force in 1972 at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas.
Fry worked in communications repair, servicing ground-to-ground and air-to-ground transmitters and receivers and transporting radios in-country to various fire bases. He was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay and at Phan Rang.
He said he’s looking forward to seeing all the monuments and hopes to find Alliance native Ron Coker’s name on the Vietnam Wall. Coker, who was killed in Vietnam rescuing an injured soldier, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
“It’s going to be quite an experience,” Fry said of the trip.
Dusty Peterson of Alliance served in the Army from September of 1969 to April of 1971, spending 14 months in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He trained as an infrantryman but ended up as a gunnar, crew chief and platoon sergeant on a helicopter. Vietnam was a beautiful country, he recalls, but he did loose friends there and is sure the trip to the Vietnam Wall will be “bittersweet.”
Peterson’s employer suggested he apply for the Honor Flight, and Peterson said he is appreciative of the opportunity to visit all of the memorials.
Raymond Suchor of Crawford was drafted into the Army in 1962 and sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. He attended Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Ala., studying fixed wing and helicopters, two-passenger small helicopters and the larger, seven-passenger Huey. After a few months at Fort Carson, Colo., he was ordered to Korea and assigned to the 15th Calvary Division. Within a few weeks, he was re-assigned to serve as a crew chief at I-Core for a three-star general’s helicopter. He remained in that position for the rest of his tour.
“Thinking back, the two years I spent in the Army were the best two years of my life. I enjoyed every day of Army life,” Suchor said.
Gary Peters of Bedford, Texas, was drafted into the Army from 1969-1971, training as a military policeman and serving as a security guard at a NATO site in Germany. Peters was a guardian for his father, a World War II veteran, during an Honor Flight several years ago.
“I had tears the whole weekend,” he said of that trip. This time, he will attend as a veteran and is looking forward to viewing it from that perspective.
Charles Iodence of Chadron was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in the 1940s and 1950s, eventually running a fire direction center in Germany.
Also attending the Honor Flight will be Larry Edwards, an assistant machine gunar with the 101st Airborne in the Army during Vietnam. He was unable to be reached before press time.