More than 100 veterans on Monday will board Central Missouri Honor Flight No. 56 — the final flight of 2018 — to travel to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorials built to honor their service to the country.
Among this group of veterans will be three members of the Cole County Fire Protection District: Chief Wayne Hammann, Deputy Chief Steve Barnes and district board president Gary Smith. All three served during the Vietnam War era. While none of them saw combat action, they all vividly remember their time in the service.
Hammann and Smith served in the Army while Barnes served in the Marines. Smith served in Germany; Hammann was stationed in the state of Washington; and Barnes served in the Middle East.
Barnes was a forward observer working with communications. Smith was an aircraft mechanic at Rhine-Mein Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany.
"I had a real boring job; I was a cook," Hammann laughed. "I spent my time in Fort Lewis, Washington. I was stationed in an infantry training unit. Roughly 90 percent of everyone who went through there eventually was shipped off to Vietnam. A lot of those guys didn't know they were headed to Vietnam."
"We did a lot of traveling," Barnes said. "We went to Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Israel. I got to see a lot of places. Our unit was scheduled to head over to Vietnam. Our bags were packed, and we were sitting there, waiting to go, and they suddenly changed our orders and turned us around."
"I was at Rhine-Mein when President Kennedy was assassinated," Smith remembered. "The security at the base got very tight because we didn't know if that meant we could expect an attack."
Flight No. 56 departs Columbia en route to the St. Louis Lambert Airport at 1:45 a.m. and will return to Columbia's Courtyard Marriott that night at 9:30 p.m. Veterans will enjoy a one-day tour of several memorials including the WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Tomb of the Unknowns, the Battle of Iwo Jima Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. At the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, the Honor Flight veterans are acknowledged during the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Barnes and Hammann have been to Washington, but Smith has not. All three said they are honored to have been chosen for the flight.
"It was brought to me that this was available, and I didn't want to go by myself. So I thought, what two better guys to go with," Barnes said. "We filled out the paperwork, and here we are."
"When we had our briefing, I don't think I've ever met as many wonderful people as we did," Hammann added. "They just treated us great."
Central Missouri Honor Flight first began flying veterans to Washington, D.C., in 2009. Since then, CMHF has flown more than 4,000 veterans. A medical team travels with each flight, as well as guardians who assist veterans with wheelchairs, medical needs and companionship on the flight.
Funds are continuously needed to keep the flights going. Donations may be mailed to the all-volunteer organization at 1400 Forum Blvd., Suite 1C, Box 334, Columbia. Veteran applications can be printed from the CMHF website at centralmissourihonorflight.com and returned via mail.
Central Missouri Honor Flights will resume in the spring.