Schertz will head straight to one of the last sections of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as 2W, and his eyes will scan to Lines 128 and 129. That's where Douglas L. O'Neil, Larry A. Zich, Allen D. Christensen and Edward W. Williams are listed among the more than 52,000 other Americans killed in Vietnam.
Schertz has never been to The Wall, or Washington, but he's flying to the nation's capital on Aug. 2 with 110 other Vietnam veterans in the first Honor Flight for Wisconsin veterans of that war.
Appleton-based Old Glory Honor Flight, whose motto is "It's never too late to say thank you," has organized numerous one-day trips to Washington for World War II veterans to visit memorials. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Vietnam, organizers decided to arrange a one-time-only trip for Vietnam veterans.
Old Glory Honor Flight's goal is to continue the free trips for World War II and Korean War veterans. With a waiting list of more than 500 names, it will be a few more years until the group can turn its attention to Vietnam veterans.
"Vietnam veterans as a group have been so incredibly supportive of our organization and really helped us get off the ground for our first flight in '09, so we thought this was a perfect way to give back to them," Old Glory Honor Flight President Drew MacDonald said.
The flight will leave Oshkosh early Aug. 2 with stops at the Wall, Smithsonian American History Museum and Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard ceremony. Veterans will wear special shirts and receive small tote bags filled with snacks, tissues, and pencils and tracing paper if they want to make an etching of a name on the Wall. The group will return that evening to EAA AirVenture to a hero's welcome and concert by actor Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band.
Organizers received 525 applications for the Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight and randomly chose 110 names. All branches of the military are represented plus one Hmong soldier who fought with American forces. The vast majority are combat veterans. All are male. Most are from Wisconsin, though a few are from other states.
MacDonald said he hopes other honor flight groups in Wisconsin and around the country will add Vietnam veteran flights during the summer.
"Most honor flight hubs stand down during the heat of the summer because taking an 80- or 90-year-old veteran in that heat is risky. The younger veterans will be much more able to tolerate the heat and humidity," said MacDonald, who organized a trip to Hawaii last year for Pearl Harbor survivors from Wisconsin. "I don't know why we didn't think of that earlier."
Tim Baranzyk, 65, of Milwaukee, has traveled on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight out of Milwaukee as a guardian to a World War II veteran. When he got an email about the flight for Vietnam veterans he forwarded it to many others. He also filled out an application.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get picked," Baranzyk said at the Greendale American Legion post where he's commander. "It's like winning the lottery."
Baranzyk's cousin is on the Wall, killed in Vietnam before Baranzyk arrived in 1967 with a Marine artillery unit. He plans to bring a small Bible he received from a chaplain in Vietnam who was killed there and leave it at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Nao Tong Vang, 77, of Appleton will bring a picture of an American radar installation. The photo is a fitting memento to leave at the Wall because Vang took part in intelligence missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail, the main supply route to South Vietnam.
Vang, a native of Laos, and other Hmong put themselves at great risk to aid Americans and saved many downed pilots. Vang, whose brother was killed in the Vietnam War, recalled the four-month-long intelligence missions when he could eat only uncooked rice soaked in water and sleep in a hammock as they constantly moved to avoid detection.
At first Vang wasn't sure if he should apply for the honor flight. "But they write on the application: whoever served in the Vietnam War. I didn't know if they would accept me or not," said Vang, who has five children and 17 grandchildren. "My children were very happy for me."
Schertz had a very low draft number and received his "Greetings" letter in 1970, volunteering to go to Vietnam. He arrived in January 1972 and was a door gunner on Hueys before moving up to crew chief, delivering top-secret radio gear.
His small signal unit had only four helicopters. Normally, crew chiefs are assigned to one particular helicopter they always fly, but a few days before April 3, 1972, Schertz was asked to move to another helicopter. His original aircraft and his newly assigned helicopter were sent from Marble Mountain Airfield in Da Nang on a routine resupply mission to units near Quang Tri.
They were supposed to travel in tandem, but Schertz's new helicopter was delayed about an hour and the other Huey, the one he had flown on many times, took off. That chopper and its four-man crew were never seen again. The military report says the helicopter with O'Neil, Zich, Christensen and Williams was likely shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
Schertz's eyes well up as he talks about his four buddies, about that day, about fate. He returned home to Milwaukee, married a girl he met through mutual friends and worked as a firefighter for 30 years, retiring in 2006. He and his wife, Nancy, have three children plus two grandchildren and two more on the way.
"I tell him," Nancy said, "it just wasn't his time. He was spared for a reason."
[Reprinted from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinal]
“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale