SAN DIEGO – A total of 85 Vietnam veterans returned home Sunday from Washington D.C. for Honor Flight San Diego’s first-ever all Vietnam veteran flight.
Nearly two thousand greeters welcomed the heroic group home. It was a homecoming fit for a hero.
Followed by an enriching weekend at our nation’s capital, the special group of veterans, US Navy HAL-3 Seawolves, arrived back at the San Diego International Airport to an emotional greeting from family, loved ones and appreciative Americans.
“I actually had to cry. I couldn’t believe it. They were so heartwarming. It was very emotional,” said Bill Martin, a 91-year-old HAL-3 Seawolf veteran.
From just 1966 to 1972, the armed helicopter squadron grew notorious for high-risk combat missions, unrivaled courage and countless lives saved.
After failed recognition following their deployment, Sunday’s greeting was long overdue.
“They flew me to Treasure island and the first thing they told us before we got off the plane was don’t wear your uniform off the base,” said Lewis Casey, a HAL-3 Seawolf veteran.
During their visit to Washington, D.C., the Seawolves visited the Vietnam Memorial along with the Arlington National Cemetery for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
“We were the best outfit out there. There wasn’t none as well as the Seawolves,” said Darryl Birmingham, who is also a HAL-3 Seawolf.
Birmingham said this very belief was reaffirmed as the group toured monuments molded by the most decorated Navy squadron in all of naval aviation history. For Casey, the sight was too much to bear.
“Basically, when we got to the Vietnam wall, I couldn’t go down to it,” Casey said.
The visit was also a tribute to the 44 men killed in sheer moments of bravery along with the over 200 wounded in combat.
“This is why we have the freedom we have in our country today because of what they did,” said Bill Ridenour, a decorated World War II veteran.