Veterans receive heroes' welcome on KS Honor Flight 75 return

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Forty-two Kansas veterans returned to the Wichita airport on Kansas Honor Flight 75.

“This was completely unexpected.. completely unexpected, when we arrived, seeing all the hoopla that was in place. It was delightful”, Larry Gonkel said. “Walking down those stairs, and seeing everybody here, was just very emotional. I could’ve cried, but I was with 50 other men, so I wasn’t about to. That’s how emotional it was."

Four Korean War veterans and 38 Vietnam veterans left Kansas Wednesday to visit Washington DC as part of the Kansas Honor Flight program. The Kansas Honor Flight program pays for veterans to visit Washington DC together. For some, it’s a chance to reconnect with fellow veterans around the state. Others never lost touch.

“I met this guy Alan Robinson in first grade. I met Freddy in seventh grade. We all went to high school together. We all served in Vietnam in the same time frame. We’ve continued to have a relationship throughout all those years. I would say I love them.. you’ve got brothers in combat, brothers of conflict, and brothers of love. I mean I think so much of these two, it almost makes me cry”, Gonkel said.

Larry Gonkel, Alan Robinson, and Freddy Pechin are life-long friends. From Kansas to Vietnam, the three men have experienced sixty years of friendship together.

“I’m so thankful that they’re here to share our senior time with my two best friends,” Gonkel said.

The veterans returned from Vietnam in the late 1960’s, to a different political climate.

“In the era we came home there was a tremendous amount of discontent. And a lot of times you were met like you were a criminal.”

After hundreds from the community greeted the veterans at the airport, Gonkel said he finally feels a happy ending.

“This is it. That’s why I can’t say enough about the Kansas Honor Flight. I can’t say enough about giving us the feel that we made a difference and a thank you. A simple thank you. It was a wonderful experience, something I’ll never forget, and maybe that’s part of the healing process.”