By Alyssa Dye
Several Antelope County men were among the 502 Nebraska Vietnam Combat Veterans who spent the 72nd anniversary of D-Day at the nation’s capital last week.
Wayne Schacht and Leonard VanDeWalle, both farmers and veterans from Orchard, took part in the one-day, all expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C.
Other local veterans included Keith Zuhlke, Marin Meis, William Jackson, Roger Huntley and Jerry Stamp.
Schacht served as a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force. Stationed in Phu Cat, Vietnam for one year, he worked on fighter plane engines, RF100’s and ground support for army and marine troops.
VanDeWalle served in Army, driving a petroleum truck supply unit for the 538 Transportation, 64th Quartermaster Battalion, Long Division.
“It was a special day - something I am glad I went on. A couple of the guys from my unit over there were on the flight too. We got to visit with the people that we had spent year with was there,” Schacht said. “We talked a lot among ourselves about when we were in Vietnam and things that happened, which we never talk about any other time. No one has ever talked much about it. It was good to visit with other ones to see what they had done and where they had been.”
The Nebraska veterans left Omaha’s Eppley Airfield early on Monday morning, and toured many sites in the nation’s capitol before returning Monday evening. They visited the Vietnam Wall, where a brief ceremony was held.
Schacht said the welcome into Washington, DC was surprising as the planes flew under arches formed by water cannons in a salute from the firemen.
But the welcome had just begun.
“When we walked through Reagan Airport, there was a lot of people there cheering for us and shaking our hands. People that were getting on their flights were standing on chairs, whistling, yelling and clapping for us. I really didn’t know how to react to that. I have never seen anything like that. I have never had anything like that happen.”
Schacht said, “We went to all of the memorials and had a ceremony at the Vietnam Wall for all of us. We laid a wreath and played taps at the Wall. I have been to the Vietnam wall before, but to go with our brothers and to visit with them and talk about over there was really special.”
The veterans also spent time at the Korea, Lincoln, World War II, Iwo Jima and Air Force Memorials and attended the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery.
VanDeWalle said that while he had been to the monuments before, this experience really stood out. , but the trip home meant the most to me. The return to Omaha was the most impressive part. The guys who hadn’t been to the monuments before - they really took it like I did the first time I went.
They returned to a very warm welcome by thousands who waited for them at Eppley.
VanDeWalle and Schacht said they were surprised by the Nebraska welcome.
“The trip was pretty emotional, but the return home meant the most to me. It was more emotional to be met by 5,000 people when we got back home to Nebraska. I didn’t expected anything like that. I probably knew close to 100 people there. There was a lot of people there from Orchard,” VanDeWalle said.
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