NEWTON — The welcome back to Wichita received by Gordon Stineman as a veteran in 2019 as a member of a Kansas Honor Flight was much different than the welcome home he got in 1968 when returning from active duty.
His first trip came on the heels of service in Vietnam, and Stineman said he was barely acknowledged by anyone on his trip home.
"There was no recognition whatsoever. I got off the plane, met my wife and came home. The difference in that reception and this flight was not even comparable," Stineman said. "When we got to Baltimore, where we stayed, we got a standing ovation from a bunch of people who did not even know us. When we came home to Wichita, there were 10 times the number of people who gave hoorahs. There were kids with signs, families with flags. The return to Wichita was mind-boggling."
Stineman said no one really expected fanfare when they came home from the war, though some kind of recognition would have been nice.
Stineman served one year in Vietnam, drafted into the Army during his first year teaching. He served in an administrative role, though the last six months was close to Saigon and forward action.
He was one of three men from Newton on Honor Flight No. 77, which on Oct. 16 carried participating veterans to Washington, D.C., for a tour of various memorials.
Charley Girten served in the Air Force during Vietnam. This was his first trip to Washington.
"I was able to see some of the sights I always wanted to see," Girten said. "I had always wanted to see the changing of the guard at the Arlington National Cemetery and the unknown soldier sight. That was really impressive. We also took a ride around Washington, D.C., and we saw the White House, the Capitol Building, and we walked to the Lincoln Memorial and WWII Memorial. It was pretty interesting."
Girten served 21 years in the military starting in 1959. He says he was in Vietnam before the war really started. He went to Vietnam in 1967, serving for a year and a half there.
"They said we would not be there very much longer because the North Vietnamese would all be captured and done away with," Girten said. "While I was there, they attacked the city of Saigon and all of Vietnam. They surely were not done. ... We did not take the battle to the enemy, we had to let them take the battle to us. We had to set up defensive positions."
Girten served in a transportation wing during the war.
Newton veterans Randy Witmore, Vietnam; Stineman and Girten were all on Kansas Honor Flight No. 77.
Honor Flight groups tour Ft. McHenry, where the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was written. Groups also tour Washington at the National Archives; the Vietnam Wall and Memorial; the Air Force Memorial; the Navy Memorial; the Marine Memorial; the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery; and the D.C. mall area.
The Kansas Honor Flight is an all-volunteer organization that works to honor Kansas veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War by providing them with an all-expense paid, three-day journey of honor and remembrance to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C. The organization also works to educate the youth and communities throughout Kansas about the impact of these historic wars and the freedoms our nation enjoys because of the service of our veterans. The KHF is part of the National Honor Flight Network, and is the No. 1 chapter of more than 130 chapters, sending more veterans on flights than any other chapter nationwide.
"If anyone gets the chance to go to Washington, D.C., and see not just the four memorials to the military branches but all the others, it is just an awesome, fantastic sight," Stineman said. "If they have not, they should, and if it has been a while they should do it again because some of them are fairly new."