By MICAH HENRY
It was a day filled with hustle and bustle mixed with poignant moments of reflection and fine camaraderie — the day when two Alexander County veterans boarded the Honor Flight to Washington, DC.
On September 21, 2019, Sgt. David White, age 70 of Ellendale, and Specialist Jerry Lackey, age 71, of Taylorsville, boarded a plane leaving Asheville, NC, en route to the nation’s capital.
Called the Blue Ridge Honor Flight, the semi-annual event brings dozens of veterans together in Washington so they may share in viewing the national war memorials and get a hero’s welcome upon their return home.
“It was an awesome day,” White stated.
They flew to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on a special plane reserved for the event. In all, there were 92 veterans along with volunteers on the flight. There were three World War II vets, eight Korean War vets, and the rest were Vietnam veterans.
Lackey’s son, Bradley, went along as a guardian for the two local men.
Veterans White and Lackey have known each other for about 33 years since they met at work in a local factory.
The veterans group had four buses, escorted by police cars with priority (lights and siren) around the capital city.
“Be prepared to be treated as king for a day,” was the phrase announced on the flight beforehand. And the day delivered.
Mail Call, always a morale booster, was even incorporated into the flight.Hundreds of cards and posters were given to veterans, prepared ahead of time by families and friends.
Getting word from home was “very important over there” in Vietnam, Lackey noted. Mail Call on the flight was “very touching,” he added.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye on the plane,” White said.
Breakfast on the plane was donated by Hardee’s in Asheville. Lunch on the buses was donated by Arby’s and Chick-fil-A.
The group traveled to the Lincoln Memorial and participated in group photographs and laying of the wreath ceremonies. US Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark spoke to the veterans and handed each one a special “Welcome Home” coin.
While at that site, Lackey and White went to visit the Vietnam Wall war memorial and the Korean War Memorial, the Reflection Pool, and the Washington Monument.
Then, it was back on the buses, in order to visit the World War II Memorial a short distance away. The men were able to see the Iwo Jima Memorial, Navy Seabees Memorial, and observe the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery.
When the group flew back to Asheville, it was a banner day. White said about 5,000 to 6,000 people were packed into the airport, greeting the veteran heroes. Flags, banners, ROTC Cadets, Scouts, and family crowded around veterans to welcome them back.
It was a far cry from the welcome most Vietnam vets received back in the 1960s and 70s. “People would holler, ‘Baby killers!’ and ‘When you going to get a job?’ and spit on soldiers,” White recalled.
“But that night, I shook hands until my arm about fell off,” White smiled.
Lackey and White shared a few experiences from their tours in Vietnam with The Times.
Trained as a cook, Lackey was soon pressed into the re-supply chain and then worked at whatever was required to stay alive in the Vietnam jungle in the 1st Air Cavalry.
“The Army would go in and clear about two acres in the jungle with bulldozers, to resupply troops. We had to keep watch and guard the supplies–we were like sitting ducks,” he noted. Lackey said when enemy troops began lobbing mortars at the supply area, he and his comrades would head for dugouts and return fire, calling in choppers.
“Everyone kept ten clips, or 200 rounds, ready,” Lackey said. “Many nights I emptied all 200 rounds.”
It was a welcome sound call for backup on the radio and hear the speedy Cobra gunship helicopters buzzing the nearby jungle to eliminate the threats.
He was in several areas including Quan Loi and An Loc up in the highlands and about half a dozen other locations. Sometimes it would be two weeks at a place, sometimes two months.
Lackey was in Vietnam nine months and ten days.
Oddly enough, Lackey met three men from Taylorsville while he was in Vietnam: Bud Fox, Howard Lackey, and Lonnie Mundy, who served in the same company as Jerry Lackey.
White also faced many hairy moments in ’Nam in the 1st Aviation Brigade.
“We used to come under mortar attack just about every night,” White recalled.
White was trained as a vehicle mechanic and worked in the Motor Pool. He was once assigned as door gunner on a Huey chopper, too. White was later promoted to Motor Pool Sergeant.
He met men in the Army who became life long friends, including four he keeps in touch with regularly.
Both men suffer from the lingering effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant used in Vietnam to clear areas of dense cover.
Among family members in service, Lackey’s father served in the Armed Forces. Currently, White’s grandson Stephen Nail is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier.
How to apply for the Honor Flight
According to the website www.blueridgehonorflight.com, the Blue Ridge Honor Flight started as a dream in 2005 and was originally founded as HonorAir. HonorAir and the National Honor Flight programs have been responsible for flying over 200,000 WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans to our nation’s capitol to experience their memorials. The Blue Ridge Honor Flight board and volunteers plan 2-3 flights from the Asheville and Greenville airports each year. The average age of veterans on the honor flight is 89.5 years.
All costs associated with the veteran’s trip, including airfare to and from Washington, DC, are covered by Honor Flight. Guardians pay $400 each for the honor of escorting a Hero to Washington, DC.
Veterans may call Blue Ridge Honor Flight at 866-776-0650 and request an application be mailed to them.
“This goes to show you, there are good people in the world,” Lackey said. “It was a great welcome home.”
“It just restores your faith in mankind. I would encourage any veteran to go, if they could,” White concluded. “It was one of the best days of my life.”