Homecomings very different for Vietnam vet

ESCANABA — It was a very different homecoming for Vietnam veteran Dennis Hahan, of Wilson, when Upper Peninsula Honor Flight Mission XIII returned to the Delta County Airport last September.

Hahan served as a medic in the Vietnam War at the age of 20. He served in Vietnam for a year before returning home.

Over 50 years have passed since the Vietnam War, noted Hahan. Back when he returned from the war, he said the reception soldiers got when coming home was not pleasant. He said he and others returning were asked to remove their uniforms before getting off the plane.

When Hahan got off the flight in Escanaba during Mission XIII, he said the reception from people supporting him and his fellow comrades was overwhelmingly “night and day” compared to the first time he came home.

“It was unbelievable,” said Hahan.

This trip, Hahan’s stepdaughter and wife greeted the returning soldier with a banner with Hahan’s military photo on it.

The U.P. Honor Flight has been taking U.P. veterans to Washington, D.C., since 2011. The flight thanks World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans by taking them on a trip to see the monuments built in their honor. Veterans view eight monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam, World War II and Korean War memorials. The flight is a token of appreciation for U.P. veterans. The vets are accompanied by a guardian — either a family member, friend or a volunteer. Hahan’s guardian on the trip was Dwayne Chartier.

Hahan said of all the memorials he saw during the trip, the one that struck him most was Arlington National Cemetery. Seeing the rows upon rows of white cross headstones hit the veteran hard.

“I was in awe to see all of the memorials,” he said.

Upon seeing the Vietnam wall memorial and all of the names listed, Hahan said he began to ask himself why he survived and thousands of other soldiers did not, noting the experience was overwhelming.

“That was very emotional,” Hahan said.

Initially, the veteran did not want to go on the mission. He explained his wife, Bonnie, encouraged him and signed him up. He said without his wife’s help, he wouldn’t have gone on the trip.

“I’m glad I went,” he said.

President of the Honor Flight Scott Knauf said Hahan’s experience on the flight was different than anyone’s he has heard before. Hahan told Knauf that after stepping off the plane at the Delta County Airport, it felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders.

“That was something nobody ever told me before,” said Knauf, adding Hahan had carried the baggage of war around for years, but after bonding and being with people who had been through what he had, it changed his whole perspective.

“It sure helped,” Hahan said.

The next mission of the Honor Flight will take place May 23, according to Knauf. Eighty-nine veterans will take part in Mission XIV. They will depart from the Delta County Airport at 6:30 a.m. and return at 8:30 p.m. that same evening. The public is welcome to come greet the veterans upon their arrival.

For more information about honor flight, visit the website www.upperpeninsulahonorflight.org.