Vietnam War veterans find closure on 32nd Never Forgotten Honor Flight trip

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WASHINGTON (WSAW) -- Though it's been decades since the Vietnam War came to an end, for many Vietnam War era veterans, the effects of the conflict still remain to this day.

Many veterans lost friends and fellow comrades in the war, and were also treated poorly by fellow Americans after coming home from service. But after the 32nd mission of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, many local Vietnam veterans are getting closer to finding healing and closure for the very first time.

Veteran Donald Stieve still has memories of the conflict from his service during the Vietnam War from 1969 through 1972.

"We were there. We built barracks for the SEALs and teams and stuff," Stieve recalled.

While the physical wounds that some of the Vietnam veterans may have gotten recovered years ago, for many, the emotional wounds from the war still remain.

"Nervous, scared, unhappy all at the same time," Stieve explained.

Making things harder yet was a cold reception from Americans when the heroes got home from service.

"It came to a point where we were ordered not to wear our uniforms off duty," Vietnam veteran Dave Craft said.

"Got spit on, called names," Vietnam veteran Ralph Wangen said. "So no, it wasn't very friendly."

Because of the 32nd mission of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, 99 local Vietnam veterans were able to receive the recognition and respect they never got back then -- right in the nation's capital. Upon arriving at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, locals were waiting to give the veterans thank yous. Getting to see the memorials made in their honor also helped the group of veterans cope with the emotional scars of war. One memorial that particularly hits close to home for them is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.

"A lot of them died over there," Vietnam veteran Leo Berna said, while looking at the names engraved on the wall.

"You're working for the same thing, and made good friends over there," Wangen added.

The names of those friends and comrades listed on the wall are heroes that may be gone, but are never forgotten.

"Like they're standing there in front of you," Stieve said. "You never forget them. You know who they are."

For many, it's time spent here reflecting and remembering together -- that helps bring more peace and closure. Something many Vietnam veterans have been waiting for for decades.

"Had some friends on the wall over there, I bid them goodbye," Stieve said. "That's another chapter in my life closed."

And after the veterans left Washington, D.C. and arrived back in Wisconsin, they were reminded that many Americans' attitudes toward their service has changed -- getting the welcome home they never got before.

"That's what makes it so great. A welcome home," Stieve explained.
After all this time, a welcome home. Pretty neat."

A standing ovation they'll never forget to cap off a trip they'll never forget.