Local veterans find Honor Flight a humbling, rewarding experience

Three Lebanon veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars were shown honor for their service by invitation to the South Willamette Valley Honor Flight May 17 to 19.

Dale Chartraw, Lee Hartung and John Lasseter boarded a plane with 60 other veterans, most of whom were in the Vietnam War.

The group started each day at 6 a.m. to prepare for 40-minute visits to multiple memorials and sights, including the Lone Sailor, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima, Lincoln Memorial, and the National Air and Space Museum.

Chartraw served in the Army in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. He was at the valley of Ia Drang until he was medevaced out, and said he suffers from PTSD and tremors associated with Agent Orange.

“I don’t talk about it much,” he said of his experiences there, but he was looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“I know a lot of people that’s on there. In the Ia Drang valley we lost over 300,” he said.

Hartung was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served in the infantry in Vietnam for about four months.

“After having to shoot people, kill people, I got back into base, took a short discharge, re-enlisted for three years, and went into combat engineers,” he said.

But that was almost worse, because he drove a big earthmover, sitting eight to 10 feet high, with no armor, he said.

“I felt really stupid, because I’m putting my life up there and there’s nobody with me.”

He helped build runways, including one that ran right across the Ho Chi Minh trail. After 1969, Hartung spent his remaining service at Fort Carson in Colorado, and entered a career as a truck driver.

When he signed up for the /Honor Flight, he appreciated that it would be a way for people to say ‘thank you,’ he said.

“When I came home in ‘69, people were at the airport and they would spit at us and call us names,” he said. “We went there to do a job for our country.”

He hoped to touch the names of his friends who are listed on the memorial wall.

“I’m hoping that going to the wall will bring some closure to all the b.s. that I got at the very beginning of coming home,” Hartung said.

Lasseter served in the Air Force from 1955 to 1958. He was part of the Special Air Missions, flying weapons and munitions, and he flew observers in Vietnam in 1958. He also served in North Africa and Saudi Arabia.

He tries to show his respect for veterans by helping with needs at Timber Linn Park Memorial.

“Veterans deserve it. We don’t know how well off we are in this country until we go overseas and see how other people live.”

During the trip, he wanted to find some names of friends he knew from his hometown who never came home.

“I would like to see the memorials from the first world war and up, and pay homage to the people who have fallen,” Lasseter said.

Following the Honor Flight tour, Lasseter said it was a trip of a lifetime.

“It humbles a person to see all those memorials,” he said.

Chartraw liked seeing all the monuments, but had some trouble while visiting the Vietnam memorial.

“I just got real upset,” he said. “I was kind of re-living it.”

Hartung was disappointed by some aspects of the trip, but perhaps found that the departure from and arrival back to Portland was overall the best part.

The group didn’t get to spend enough time at the monuments, and leaving the east coast was upsetting, he explained. They were padded down multiple times and he had to go through the x-ray machine twice.

“Very, very sad to have been treated that way for a bunch of honored veterans taking that trip,” Hartung said. “When we arrived in Portland, it was a beautiful homecoming. It was very, very nice. Even leaving Portland, we were treated with respect and honor.”

Lasseter agreed the way they were treated heading home from D.C. was unnecessary, especially for the two veterans in wheelchairs.

“They frisked them like they had bombs because they couldn’t go through the metal detectors,” he said. “It went way beyond what they should’ve. It didn’t make sense.”

Despite that, Lasseter recommends every veteran should go.

“When you go, it’s well worth it. When you see all those memorials and what it’s like, it’s humbling and emotional at the same time.”