Midwest Honor Flight: Vietnam War Veterans get the welcome home they deserved

Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 9:37 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Vern Anderson grew up in Geddes, South Dakota, and currently resides in Sioux Falls. He served in the Navy and the Fleet Marine Force as a hospital corpsman between 1966 and 1970.

A majority of the veterans on Mission 15 served in Vietnam, a politically divisive conflict for the United States that lead to a poor reception when soldiers returned home.

“I was not received very well when I landed in LAX,” Anderson said. “In order for them to get us in taxi cabs so we could get on our way, there were protesters outside the terminal. They were spitting on some of the guys. They were doing all kinds of weird things.”

Vern says that he did still receive a positive reception back home in Geddes.

“Little towns accepted us back without a question,” Anderson said.

Servicemen say they were treated like monsters regardless of what their role was overseas. Anderson’s role in the Navy hospital was actually to keep men alive until they could be moved to other medical facilities.

There were even times when he would help treat Vietnamese civilians.

“That’s life. Everyone was doing their job to the best of their ability and they did their job,” Anderson said.

In the line of duty, he was wounded three times, earning him three purple hearts. He recalled one of the times he was hit and woke up 14 days later in Okinawa with no identification.

“They didn’t know if I was a general, an admiral, a private. They didn’t have any idea. You are unknown here. Fourteen days ago, you were reported missing in action,” Anderson said.

A man who was there when Vern woke up told him that they told his mom that he was lost. According to Vern, she jokingly responded with, “I’ve been looking for him for 21 years.”

Vern finally got to tell these stories on Mission 15. He has a special relationship with his daughter, Jennifer Stangret, who was his guardian on the trip.

“The fact that he was a Naval Hospital Corpsman, kind of pushed me into my medical career, so I’m kind of following in his footsteps. Just a little bit differently,” Stangret explained.

“Oh, she’s my sweetheart. She’s mine. She’ll always be mine,” Anderson expressed.

Despite their strong relationship, she didn’t hear much about his service as a child.

“Growing up, he really didn’t talk a lot about the service,” Stangret explained. “We knew that he was a Vietnam veteran. We knew that he had been injured.”

The Honor Flight gave veterans like Vern one final tour with honor, but most importantly, they were given the heroes welcome home they deserved all those years ago.

“Most people don’t get to meet their hero. I was raised by mine,” Stangret said.

Anderson said he’s proud to be a recipient of three purple hearts, yet he tells most people that he got all three “by mistake,” even though it’s not true.

Stangret says that she appreciates the Honor Flight for giving the Veterans the chance to be thanked, which she says should be encouraged.