A Vietnam veteran himself, Richard Morgan of Clarinda carries a deep respect for the symbolism of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“When you see those names, you realize those are young people who gave it all for their country. That just really hits you in the face,” Morgan said.
Morgan visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and other military tributes in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 21, during the Iowa Honor Flight that departed from Des Moines. Morgan was among 240 veterans to participate in the flight.
“There was a lot crammed in a little bit of time, but it was fantastic,” Morgan said. “It made me feel good and was something I will never forget. It was a wonderful thing they did for us,” Morgan said.
Originally from Des Moines, Morgan and his wife, Sharon, moved to Clarinda in 2001 to be near their three grandchildren.
“Our grandchildren were really impressed grandpa got to do this,” Sharon said.
Morgan served in the Army for 20 years from 1963 to 1983. Over his career, Morgan earned several honors including the Bronze Star.
A cook, Morgan was stationed in Vietnam for three tours. Morgan was first stationed at Nha Trang. He spent his second tour at Saigon and then was assigned to Phu Bai.
“Somebody had to feed those guys. It was just as dangerous to be a cook as anyone else because we would get attacked by rockets quite often,” Morgan said.
Although Morgan had spent a week in Washington, D.C., while he was in the service, he said he saw the memorials through new eyes on the Iowa Honor Flight.
During the tour, the veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the United States Marines Corps War Memorial.
While at Arlington National Cemetery, Morgan said he had the opportunity to see the grave of Audie Murphy. Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, receiving every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army.
“I had been to Arlington before, but that doesn’t matter. It sets you back when you see it,” Morgan said. “There is a very somber mood because those are soldiers who have given their life for their country. It also reminds you that you could have been there.”
Morgan also witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is something that stands out no matter how many times you go there. The Changing of the Guard is very impressive. Every detail is done with such precision right down the line. Those young guys have learned to do their job and they do it so well,” Morgan said.
Adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery is the Air Force Memorial. The monument features three stainless steel spires soaring into the sky 402 feet from the promontory.
“It was beautiful. The spires are arched outward like planes flying in a similar formation,” Morgan said.
The Air Force Memorial also overlooks the Pentagon. Morgan said the tour drove by the Pentagon and learned a slight variation in the color of the concrete is visible. The new concrete identifies the location of repairs made to the building following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
At the Lincoln Memorial, Morgan said his group met another tour group consisting of elementary students. He said the students came over and thanked the veterans for their military service.
“That really impressed me,” Morgan said. “Everyone on the flight did a real good job of making us feel good and expressing their appreciation for our service. When we landed in Washington, a child even presented me with a hand-drawn picture to say thank you for my service.”
The Korean War Memorial uses statues to depict a platoon of American soldiers on patrol.
“It was really outstanding. Korea is considered the forgotten war. Behind the statues of the soldiers is a granite wall infused with pictures of actual American soldiers from the Korean War. It was just beautiful,” Morgan said.
Morgan applied to participate in an honor flight nearly two years ago. He was notified by letter approximately two months before the event that he had been selected to attend the Iowa Honor Flight.
“It was a very pleasant surprise. I was almost jumping for joy,” Morgan said.
Prior to departing on the flight Tuesday morning, Morgan was invited to attend a recognition dinner for the veterans, and the guardians assisting them on the flight, Monday, May 20, at the Hy-Vee conference center in West Des Moines.
A police escort led the 12 charter buses on a 14 mile trip from their hotel near the airport to the center.
“On the way to the dinner there were people along the route waving flags for the busses,” Morgan said.
Along with the dinner, a special program was held. The program included a performance by a barber shop choir and the singing of the armed service medley comprised of the theme songs for each branch of the military. During the singing of each song, the members of that branch were asked to stand and be recognized.
“You could see them old guys standing up just as proud as could be. That was quite an impressive thing,” Morgan said.