Families of Jasper County veterans who died after returning from the Vietnam War will be making the flight this summer to Washington, D.C. to honor their loved ones.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Funds’ In Memory Program is designed to honor those vets who returned home from war but later died. In Memory was created in 1993 by the group Friends of the Vietnam War Memorial, recognizing the suffering many veterans and their families experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, cancer and the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.
The trip is being organized locally by the Jasper County Veterans Alliance, and according to Alliance member Doug Bishop, each trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is about healing.
“This program was created for the guys who made it home from Vietnam, but the war wounded every one of them,” Bishop said. “There wasn’t one man or women who came home who didn’t have a wound of some kind. Not all those wounds are visible.”
When the traveling Wall That Heals was in Newton last summer, VVMF representative Tim Tetz developed a working relationship with Alliance members. He was impressed by the number of Freedom Flights to Washington Jasper County volunteers had independently organized.
“He heard about the freedom flights, honor flights and the Mideast Memorial trip we put together and he said ‘you’re probably the right crew to get involved with the In Memory program. We’re really trying to kick this thing off,’” Bishop said. “We’d never heard about (In Memory), and we thought we were really tuned into what was going on.”
The original plan was to join In Memory weekend 2020, but Tetz told Bishop there has never been a coordinated effort by one county in the United States to send a contingent of veterans’ families through the In Memory program, and he thought Jasper County could be the first.
“So we called the Alliance members together and they said, ‘You bet. Let’s get after it,’” Bishop said.
The trip is scheduled for June 14-16, Father’s Day weekend. All 40-plus Jasper County residents will take a single plane and fly to Washington, D.C. One week ahead of the flight, the Alliance will hold a send-off ceremony for the public and families who cannot make the trip.
Each family is responsible for financing their travel; however, Bishop said the Alliance is offering financial assistance to families who cannot afford a ticket to Washington and fundraising opportunities will be announced after the March 8 registration deadline.
In Memory has honored 3,600 veterans since 1993 and just 53 have been from Iowa. As of Feb. 14, approximately 20 Jasper County families have committed to the trip and another 14 have been contacted. After the registration deadline, the Alliance believes there will be 40 to 50 family members of local veterans headed to the wall Washington.
“I think that speaks volumes of the veterans supporters in Jasper County, Iowa,” Bishop said.
The itinerary includes a ceremony Saturday morning at the memorial wall, a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and an all-Jasper County dinner Saturday evening. On Father’s Day, a second ceremony will see 1,000 red roses laid at the base of the Vietnam wall. Each veteran honored will have their name read allowed by a family member or volunteer.
Newton native Chris Hoagland’s father, Michael Hoagland, will be one of the vets remembered. Chris first joined the Alliance, known to Jasper County vets and their families as “The Red Shirts,” in 2011 before one of the Jasper County Freedom Flights to Washington. His father served in the U.S. Army and was a 1966-68 veteran of the Vietnam War.
Michael died of cancer at the age of 55. The family believes his illness was caused by exposure to Agent Orange during his time in-country. Michael’s family filed for compensation from the federal government in 2001 but was denied.
“Unless you have a guy who was a hound dog on it, you weren’t going to get anything from them at that time. We didn’t file an appeal,” Hoagland said.
Chris will be joining the other 40-plus Jasper County family members in Washington memorial and read his father’s name aloud during the In Memory ceremony.
“It’s a big honor. He’s been gone a long time. Those guys and a lot of trouble over there,” Chris said. “He never complained. He was such a good guy.”
For questions about Jasper County’s In Memory trip or to take part in the event, contact the Jasper County Veterans Alliance at email@example.com.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or firstname.lastname@example.org