A visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial gave Gregory Turnbow a moment to remember and mourn his best friend, Robert Romero, killed in that conflict.
photo by Cody Rheault
A visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial gave Gregory Turnbow a moment to remember and mourn his best friend, Robert Romero, killed in that conflict. photo by Cody Rheault
After more than a year of cancellations and postponements, Honor Flight of Central Oregon took off for Washington D.C. on September 22. Twenty-three veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars joined this year’s trip, which served as an opportunity to honor them for their service.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, Honor Flights around the nation were postponed from their annual trips taking veterans to our nation’s capital throughout years 2020 and 2021. Dane Prevatt, president of Honor Flight of Central Oregon, was forced to cancel three times before the successful September trip.

“Time is of the essence with these guys, and I didn’t want to wait any longer,” he said.

Four veterans slated for the initial trip in May of 2020 died before making the trip to D.C. Hearing a veteran has passed before they had their chance is the worst call to get, Prevatt said, and it made him more determined than ever to make a trip happen before it was too late for another.

This year’s planning was a bit of a gamble, he said. Not knowing if the approval would come in time, they put forth plans for D.C. in late September 2021. The national Honor Flight network approved all trips starting in August of 2021, shortly after they started making plans. However, despite the clearance, the Central Oregon chapter remains the only group to take flight out of Oregon this year.

This summer, calls went out to veterans who had submitted applications, notifying them they were selected for the trip. Gregory Turnbow, a Vietnam War Army veteran from Crooked River Ranch, said he could barely contain his excitement when he was told he got a seat on the Honor Flight.

“I couldn’t believe they were calling me,” he said. “It really was a dream come true.” Many other veterans shared the same sentiment.

Three lucky Sisters residents were among those elated with the news. Terrel Roberson (U.S. Army, 1968-1970), Hal Busch (U.S. Coast Guard, Korea 1948-1952), and Earl Schroeder (U.S. Air Force, 1958-1966) all checked in for their opportunity to witness firsthand the foundations of the nation they all fought to preserve.

“This is something I would have never done myself,” said Roberson.

For Schroeder, this is his third time to the capital, but it never gets old.

“This place always grabs my heart,” he said.

Among the 23 veterans were 22 guardians — volunteers ranging from all walks of life who simply want to help veterans enjoy a journey built in their honor. The trip lasted a total of four days, including two travel days. In that time, veterans visited 13 monuments and memorials including the National Archives, Lincoln Memorial, Korean and Vietnam memorials, World War II memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and Changing of the Guard, and respective monuments to each branch of the service.

For each veteran, it was an experience they never expected but were honored to receive. They said a trip to the nation’s capital for them wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of Honor Flight of Central Oregon. And for many it was an emotional experience. Korean War veterans were reunited with memories of a war they fought 70 years ago when they visited the Korean War memorial. For the Vietnam War veterans, their memories are just as potent 50 years later.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Turnbow thumbed the pages of the thick, paper guide looking for the name of a friend he lost back in 1969 during a night raid in a small Vietnamese village. He found his name, Robert Romero, on the wall, panel W50.

“He was my best friend,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I miss him.”

Touching his name and seeing his friend honored on the wall was closure for him, like it has been for so many others. Prevatt said it’s common for veterans to be apprehensive, confronted with memorials to the wars they fought and memories of friends lost. But many of them found solace in knowing they were not forgotten and their sacrifice honored. A few found closure.

For these veterans of all generations, Honor Flight is an opportunity to receive their due appreciation. For Korean War veterans, the “forgotten war” becomes remembered. The Vietnam War veterans who were once welcomed with disdain are greeted with reverence. Passengers in terminals in every airport rise to their feet and applaud them as they walk by, and they are welcomed home to cheers and signs reading “Welcome Home Heroes.”

This group of veterans never received that welcome home — until now.