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EDITORIAL ELSEWHERE Vietnam vets deserve their Honor Flights


Vietnam vets deserve their Honor Flights

The statistics are well-known about World War II veterans: The average age is 92, and they’re dying at a rate of 492 a day. Of the 16 million WWII vets, just 855,000 are still alive, according to the Veterans Administration.

They’re a bit less known for Korean War vets: The average age is about 83, and they were dying at a rate of 367 a day in 2010.

But our Vietnam veterans are aging, too: The average is 65 years old. More than 5 million of the nation’s more than 7 million Vietnam-era veterans are between 60 and 70 years old, according to data from the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics and reported by Stars and Stripes.

Those stark numbers are behind a decision announced this week that area Vietnam veterans now are eligible to apply to go on tours of Washington, D.C., hosted by Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities.

Honor Flight first began serving World War II veterans in 2008, later expanding to Korean War vets as the number of WWII vets began dwindling. Now, with 34 flights completed and 3,100 World War II and Korean War-era vets completing Honor Flight tours, Vietnam veterans are getting their turn.

Of course, Vietnam veterans have been represented on previous Honor Flights. Those who had terminal illnesses were moved up on the list, and many have served as tour guardians for those who served before them. Guardians, however, paid for the honor of escorting veterans on Honor Flights.

Now, Vietnam vets are eligible to tour the monuments and memorials in our nation’s capital for free, with others serving as their guardians.

Several Vietnam veterans were at the news conference this week announcing the change and were touched by the honor.

“We came home at a very tumultuous and tough time for veterans,” said Bill Albracht, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Quad-Cities Chapter 299, Rock Island. “We never got the respect for the sacrifices we made. This is a recognition for my brothers, it really is.”

Greg Paulline, president of Vietnam Veterans Gateway Chapter 776, Bettendorf, said six members of his 180-member chapter died in the past year. “We, too, are aging,” he said.

World War II and Korean War veterans still will get priority for future flights, but Vietnam veterans now will be able to fill any remaining seats on flights, which will include four scheduled for 2016.

Steve Garrington, interim hub director for Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities, said he is expecting a “flood of interest. Vietnam veterans have not had the Welcome Home.”

We hope all Vietnam-era veterans will take advantage of the flights, and we hope Quad-Citians will turn out at the airport when their flights return, giving them the welcome home they deserved years ago.

— The Quad City Times. Nov. 12

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