The most recent Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight organized locally through the Fenton History Center’s Vets Finding Vets program recognized five local veterans who served during the Vietnam War.
Richard Franzen of Jamestown, Donald Pochopin of Silver Creek, William Baker of Cassadaga, John Lockwood of Randolph and Thomas Dunfee of Youngsville, Pa., took part in the trip to Washington, D.C.
The Honor Flight allows veterans to experience many of the memorials located in the nation’s capital. The latest flight took place over the weekend.
The second night of the trip was paid for by the American Legion Riders of Western New York, Frewsburg Post 556.
“Each year, the American Legion Riders of Western New York, Frewsburg Post 556 have our annual motorcycle run the third Saturday in August and we allocate some of our proceeds and donate $150 to those veterans going on the Honor Flight leaving from the Fenton Center in Jamestown,” Kelly Fain, treasurer for the group, said. “They can use these funds for the extra night hotel stay or as they wish. It is our way of helping our local veterans and saying thank you to them for their service to our country.”
Lockwood served during the Vietnam War, but was not actually in Vietnam, instead spending his time in the service in Iceland and Virginia. He said even though he was drafted into the service, he believed in what he was doing.
For him, the trip was impressive.
“I liked visiting the war memorials and was fascinated by the trees and parkland and the work that they must do to take care of that,” Lockwood said. “The weather was terrible but the war memorials were impressive, in particular the Korean War Memorial.”
Lockwood said he appreciated the bond he had with others on the recent trip.
“It was a group of people around the same age with not necessarily the same experiences or wishes, but there was camaraderie and everyone was very outgoing and friendly,” Lockwood said.
Pochopin served from 1968 to 1969 in Vietnam in the Central Islands. He said he did his duty and came home, spending his last six months in California. While a lot of people did not care for what the soldiers were doing, Pochopin said they did their job.
For him, the trip was great in that it reflected an attitude of respect that Vietnam veterans did not get on their original return home.
“Every place we stopped people clapped and shook hands,” Pochopin said. “That didn’t happen when we came back. It was a nasty return. We didn’t realize how bad we were being treated back home until we returned. This was a totally different experience and it was nice to see and feel that.”
Pochopin said every time the group got off of the plane was “fantastic” and that people were even singing. He added that the way they were taken care of was great, and that he thought the trip, though busy, was “perfect.”
Dunfee served two tours in Vietnam. He said the trip meant a lot for him, after serving with pride and honor.
“It was wonderful,” Dunfee said. “It meant a lot. We visited the war memorials and I enjoyed everything.”
Baker was drafted into service and served from 1961 to 1964, spending most of his time in Germany. The trip meant a lot to him, especially being able to go with his granddaughter.
“What most impressed me was the reception the plane received when we landed back in Buffalo at one in the morning,” Baker said. “I’ve been to Washington, D.C. a few times, so this was my second time seeing the memorials. For this trip, I liked the togetherness that was there with all of the guys that went. It was a good group of nice people.”
Franzen served in the Army from 1964 to 1966, specifically in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. He said his time in the service helped him learn to grow up, take orders, work as a team and operate with very little money.
Similar to Pochopin, the flight for him meant a lot compared to the reception Vietnam veterans received when coming home from service.
“It’s hard to explain but when we came back from Vietnam we were very put down,” Franzen said. “We were not received as true veterans. This trip gave us the welcome home feeling.”
Franzen said he, too, enjoyed the welcome reception they received when returning to Buffalo.
“The welcome home in Buffalo was the pinnacle of the success,” Franzen said. “It was a treat and there were even bagpipes. It was an exceptionally great time.”
Source : Jamestown Post Journal