An Overdue Honor
Honor Flight participants reflect on Memorial Day
Four Vietnam War–era veterans who live in Door County will be among 86 veterans who will fly June 7 on an Old Glory Honor Flight.
Armand “Chum” Nault of Sturgeon Bay, Mike Johnson of Little Sturgeon, Don Koepsel of Baileys Harbor, and Ed Heyward of Sturgeon Bay and Washington Island will be part of the 62nd Honor Flight for veterans who served in the military prior to May 7, 1975.
The flight from Appleton Airport will take veterans to see the memorials in the Washington, D.C., area and return later that day.
The four veterans shared with the Peninsula Pulse their thoughts about what Memorial Day means to them.
Armand “Chum” Nault
Nault, who graduated from Sturgeon Bay High School in 1967, went to work at what was then Felhofer Brothers auto dealership on the city’s west side before being drafted into the Army in 1969.
After basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Nault was sent to Vietnam, where he was wounded two months after arriving, then medically evacuated to Japan. Instead of being sent back to Vietnam, he was then stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, before being discharged in 1971.
Nault, who is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3088 of Door County, said Memorial Day is a special day for any military veteran to remember fallen service members, who for him include two of his friends whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.
“I’m looking forward to returning to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial wall as that place has an emotional effect on everyone that sees it,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to seeing all the other memorials, including the World War II memorial, as my father was an infantry soldier in World War II.”
In contrast to members of the military not being welcomed back when they returned from serving in Vietnam, Nault said the Honor Flight will also provide a proper welcoming home.
“Vietnam-era veterans were not given the respect we deserved back in the 1970s, so for us it’s extra special to be honored for our service,” he said.
After being discharged in 1971, Nault went back to work for what was then Boettcher Nelson as an auto technician. He held various management positions – shop foreman, body-shop manager, parts and service manager – and then in 1990, he became general manager, a position he held until retiring in 2015 from Jim Olson Motors.
After returning home following his time in the service, Nault married his wife, Linda, with whom he celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. They raised two sons, Greg and Brad.
Johnson, a member of VFW Post 3088 whose father also served in the military during World War II, was in the Army’s infantry in 1970-71. After basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, and additional training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Johnson was sent overseas to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.
After being discharged, Johnson, who is originally from Illinois, worked for more than 40 years in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning business as a technician and superintendent before moving to Door County upon retiring about eight and a half years ago.
For Johnson, Memorial Day is a solemn day to remember the fallen for their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made. He expects it will be very moving to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Johnson entered the service after marrying his wife, Cheryll, whom he met when they attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout. They’ve been married for 54 years.
Johnson said he’s glad that his oldest daughter, Lisa Martin, was selected as one of the chaperones to be with him on the Honor Flight because she was 5 months old when he entered the service, and he didn’t get to be with her to celebrate her birthday until she was 3 years old.
Johnson said his wife and daughter Amy, who was born after he returned from the service, will be on hand to welcome the Honor Flight upon its return to Appleton International Airport.
The wife of VFW Post 3088 Commander Joe Knaapen, Laura, who’s a nurse at Door County Medical Center, will be a chaperone on the Honor Flight for Nault. She said being a chaperone will be a way for her to give back, and she has family members who have served in the military.
“I have a heart for the military,” she said.
After being drafted into the Army, Koepsel had his basic training at Fort Campbell and additional training at Fort Polk, having been trained on 81mm mortars for the infantry.
Koepsel said he was sent to Quang Tri province, the northernmost province in South Vietnam, which experienced a high number of casualties during the early 1970s.
“It was a pretty dangerous spot,” he said.
Upon being honorably discharged after serving in Vietnam, Koepsel, who had worked with his parents before joining the service, said he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he came home.
He ended up being an insurance agent for 40 years before retiring. Koepsel married his wife, Donna, in 1973, and they raised three daughters.
He said Memorial Day “means a lot to all veterans” and said it’s also nice to see all the non-veterans who attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the Little Sister Cemetery to honor those who served this country.
“It’s heartwarming to see that,” he said.
Koepsel said he would recommend that any veteran who could go on the Honor Flight to do so.
Memorial Day doesn’t meet the definition of a holiday for Heyward, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, 1968-70, maintaining aircraft in the Marine Corps.
Heyward – who is from McHenry, Illinois, and moved to Door County upon retiring – said Memorial Day is not about having beers and burgers, but rather, about remembering those who died in service to the country.
“I know too many names on the [Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall],” he said.
Upon returning from Vietnam before being discharged from the Marines, Heyward was in Texas for six months to train Reserves on repairing aircraft.
He said it will be an honor to be on the Honor Flight, considering how members of the military were previously treated when they returned from Vietnam.
“[Being on the Honor Flight is] something I should do,” he said.
Heyward also has family members who have served in the military.