By Emily Bontrager
The 60th mission of the Great River Honor Flight took off on August 18, 2022. Local Vietnam veteran Mike Clark, 74, of Kahoka traveled with 30 other veterans from the states of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa in Washington, DC.
Mike Clark was born in Quincy, Illinois and grew up in St. Francisville, Missouri. His parents were Clifford and Doris (Briggs) Clark. Clifford was a World War II Army veteran who served in the Pacific.
In April 1968, when Mike was 19, he enlisted in the United States Army.
His three brothers Dale, Danny and David also served in the Vietnam War. Danny and David served in the military and Dale was a Marine.
The main reason Mike joined was that he didn’t want to serve as a Marine.
“I was sitting watching the news one night and it came on the television that they were going to recruit 10,000 more Marines,” Mike said.
“My brother had already been drafted into the Marine Corps and I didn’t want to be a Marine because they were carrying guns.”
In 1968 Mike began his basic training in Texas at Fort Bliss. He then completed his Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
After AIT, Mike was sent to Vietnam in February 1969 where he was stationed in Can Tho. In Can Tho, he worked in a shop as a heavy equipment repairman.
“I’ve worked on heavy equipment like graders, bulldozers, cranes and dump trucks,” Mike said.
“It was mostly dump trucks because we were a construction company.”
In February 1970, Mike was given 30 days leave. He was then sent to Germany, where he served for 14 months. After serving in Germany, Mike was honorably discharged in April 1972.
The first time Mike heard of Great River Honor Flights was when the organization began flying to DC in 2010.
Recently Mike spoke to Dennis Owens who is also a local veteran and Dennis gave him a copy of the application to complete for the honor flight. Today, applications are accepted from veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
When filling out an application, the organization needs to know where and when a veteran served and what branch they were in. It also helps them provide certain t-shirts to veterans.
“Vietnam shirts have a helicopter on them. WWII has a propeller plane and Korea has a jet,” Mike said.
The Great River Honor Flight selects veterans on a first-come, first-served basis. Each veteran travels with a group of tutors, who help support veterans during the trip. Guardians pay for their own trip, but veterans enjoy the trip for free.
Mike’s daughter, Elizabeth Smith, was able to travel as a guardian.
The trip to Washington DC began early in the morning of August 18.
“We left here and had to be in Hannibal at 2 a.m. to get on the bus,” Mike said.
Veterans and Guardians then traveled from Hannibal to St. Louis Lambert International Airport. They boarded a plane and flew to Baltimore, Maryland, where the veterans were greeted by a group of people who greeted them and thanked them for their service.
“Everyone got off the plane and we walked through the airport and everyone stood up and clapped,” Mike said.
The group headed from Baltimore to Washington, DC to visit numerous memorial sites. “We visited the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial,” Mike said.
“I was impressed with the way the Korean Memorial was put together and how it looked. The World War II Memorial was also very impressive.
“We also passed by the Navy Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Air Force Memorial,” added Mike.
“When we got to the Air Force Memorial it was on a small cliff and the Pentagon was right in front. You could see DC with the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Looking outside it was quite a sight .
Mike also visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he witnessed the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
According to Mike, the bus driver who took the veterans to the memorials was very knowledgeable and learned a lot from him.
On the way back from St. Louis, the veterans had a motorcycle escort from Bowling Green to Hannibal, Missouri.
“There were about 85 or 90,” Mike said.
After the veterans returned to Hannibal, they were welcomed by family and friends. All veterans then received a wall hanging made by the local Hannibal Piecemakers Quilt Guild.
On his trip, Mike had fun and really enjoyed seeing the memorials in Washington, DC with his daughter Elizabeth. He recommends that other veterans take part in the honor flight if they have the opportunity.
“If they’re able to do it, do it,” Mike said.
According to greatriverhonorflight.com “Great River Honor Flight, a Missouri non-profit corporation established in October 2009, was formed solely to honor American veterans who live in our area for all they have sacrificed providing, free of charge , transportation to Washington DC to visit memorials dedicated to honoring their service and sacrifice.
For more information on Great River Honor Flight, you can visit their website greatriverhonorflight.com or contact Carlos Fernandez at [email protected] Applications are available for veterans and guardians on the Great River Honor Flight website.