David Weber knows from his experience in the service that things can change at a moment’s notice.
“Being in the military, you know things come and go and you’ve got to expect that,” he said. “That’s just the way life is.”
While the life-long Waterloo resident had hoped to be visiting the national monuments in Washington D.C. as part of a spring Badger Honor Flight, coronavirus grounded all the trips scheduled by the national organization.
The Badger Honor Flight may not have been able to take Weber and his fellow veterans to the nation’s capitol, but the organization found a way to honor the 76-year-old Vietnam veteran through Operation Resilience.
Weber’s wife, Kay Weber, said her husband signed up for the experience in December 2018 and he was put on a wait list. She and her daughter spoke with Badger Honor Flight to get David Weber on a flight soon. Earlier this year, Kay Weber, who has lived in Waterloo since 1962, learned her husband would be scheduled for a spring trip out of Dane County Regional Airport.
Unfortunately, when COVID-19 spread across the globe, the trips were canceled.
“These veterans aren’t young and a lot of them have health issues and of course they are right up there with the most susceptible for the virus,” Kay Weber said.
David Weber knew there was nothing he could do except wait for the flights to resume.
But, the Badger Honor Flight wanted to continue honoring veterans, even if it wasn’t as expansive as the full day of events. Volunteers organized Operation Resilience – a caravan of vehicles would travel to each of the veterans who had been set to go on one of the canceled honor flights.
The Webers had short notice of the volunteer’s plans to bring a part of honor flight to their Waterloo residence. Kay Weber received an email from the couple’s daughter Darleen Reichardt, who was selected to serve as David Weber’s guardian on the trip to Washington D.C.
“I think I found out about it one day and they were coming the next,” she said. “They said they were sorry for the short notice and if we weren’t able to be here, they would leave everything here. But of course, we wanted to be here for that.”
Kay Weber said a pair of vehicles adorned with American flag decals and total of six to eight people came to their home to present her husband with a Badger Honor Flight hat, jacket, goody bag and bags filled with letters thanking the veteran for his service.
“It was so heartwarming and it brought us to tears,” Kay Weber said about the 10-minute visit. “It still does when you think about it.”
Mail call on the flight home is often cited as one of the most emotional parts of the day; it remained true when Operation Resilience visited David Weber at the end of June.
“It almost makes you want to cry because you were shunned when you were in the military,” he said. “They treated you almost like dirt. And now everybody thanks you. It took almost 30-some years, almost 40 years before it turned around.”
Kay Weber said compared to when her husband initially came home from Vietnam, having him receive the letters was a bit bittersweet.
“We had demonstrators at the airport (when he returned home from Vietnam),” she said. “It wasn’t very nice to come home to.”
David Weber was a member of the United States Army Reserves out of Madison. He signed up for a six-year commitment in 1966 and two years into his service, the Waterloo resident was deployed to Long Bihn, Vietnam in August 1968 following seven months of training.
“They had to go to Fort Knox (Kentucky) for training before they left,” Kay Weber said.
Upon return from Vietnam, David Weber was told that since he served in Vietnam, he did not need to complete the remainder of his obligation.
“When he got out in 1969, he was done,” Kay Weber said.
David Weber, who is a member of the Waterloo American Legion and Marshall-Waterloo VFW, is still looking forward to getting on a Badger Honor Flight in the future.
“I think it would be a good experience,” he said.