Tour of Honor


Madras, Warm Springs area veterans tour memorials in Wash., D.C.

Larson Kalama Sr. plays an honor song on his flute at the Vietnam War Memorial wall.Local veterans on the recent Veteran Honor Tour to Washington, D.C., were impressed by the war memorials, but weren’t prepared for the thousands of people who wanted to shake their hands.

Ten Jefferson County veterans, from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, spent May14-19, on the tour, visiting nine memorials, plus Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the U.S. Capitol, and watching the Marine Corps Sunset Parade.

Tour leader and organizer, Mike Williams, who is also a Vietnam vet, said it was also his first trip to Washington, D.C. The idea for the honor tour actually originated in Warm Springs.

“It started in 2007 with J.R. Smith, the Wasco Chief, asking me to organize a trip to take Native American veterans to Washington, D.C. Five years later, he asked me again, but we needed 10 people to get the airfare breaks, and there were never enough,” Williams explained.

“Last October, I said we’d have to open it up to nonnatives. I presented the idea to the Madras American Legion and they helped with the base funding for four World War II vets and a Korean vet to go. Three more from Warm Springs signed on, and two from Madras, which gave them a group of 10, and the trip was on.

“I’d never done a project of this magnitude before, but it worked out good with Loyal (Miller) and the Vietnam vets able to assist with pushing the three in wheelchairs. The only thing that went haywire, was one night we ate at an Indonesian restaurant that was too spicy for them,” Williams said.

Williams had worked with Dick Tobiason and his son Eric on the Honor Flight trips (for Central Oregon World War II vets), and got a lot of information from them, which helped him organize this trip.

“This was a cross-generational tour with younger and older vets. A highlight for me was seeing the pleasure at dinner in the evenings, with everybody coming together and sharing camaraderie, from World War II to Vietnam veterans. It really felt good,” Williams said.

Those on the trip included World War II vets Loyal Miller, Henry Helmholts, Earnest Walston, and Frank Lake; Korean War vet Malcolm Griswold; and Vietnam vets David Gibson, Larson Kalama Sr., Leroy Ellis, Janice Smith and Michael Williams. Doris McLean accompanied the group as a medical assistant aide.

Walston’s wife Betty said he kept saying he wasn’t excited about going. “But the morning of the trip at 6 a.m., he woke me up. He was completely dressed and holding his suitcase,” she laughed, noting she took him to the bus and he had a wonderful trip.

Loyal Miller, who served in India and Burma during the war, said the Marine Corps Sunset Parade was really something. “They sat us right in front because we were World War II vets. After the drill and shouting out orders, they said they were going to do it without any commands. It must have lasted 45 minutes and they did all kinds of movements twirling guns and never said a word and didn’t drop anything. We got home after midnight that night,” he said.

Many of the vets said that was the highlight of the trip, including Ernie Walston, who served in the South Pacific, and Frank Lake, who served in the Philippines.

The World War II and Korean vets were surprised to each be presented with a U.S. flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol at the end of the sunset parade. A Marine sergeant also came over and talked to them.

“I gave that Marine a bad time, but he knew I was just razzin’ him,” said Walston, who was in the Army. “I asked him what Pfc. stood for, and he said `private first class.’ ”

“Not in my outfit; Pfc. meant personal friend of the president,” Walston said, laughing at his joke. (C is for commander in chief.)

Both men remarked on the realism of the Korean War Memorial, which featured life-sized stainless steel statues of soldiers in rain gear walking through jungle-like vegetation.

“It was eerie, you know, a little scary to look at,” Lake said.

They chuckled over a photo taken while they were waiting for the Marines sunset parade. Teacher Elsie Bealieu from Plattsburgh, N.Y., and two pretty girls who were pupils of hers, spotted the World War II vets in the front row and asked to have their pictures taken with them – then mailed copies of the photos to Lake.

“I liked everything, even some of the crowd,” Lake quipped, adding, “The Marine Band was great and all the monuments were fascinating.”

Vietnam vet Larson Kalama Sr., of Warm Springs, said he played his flute at every monument he visited to honor the veterans represented. “One that really touched me was the Women’s Veteran Memorial, where I played the flute for a young lady (Lori Piestewa) from Arizona who was the first Native American killed in Iraq,” he said, noting it was an honor to take the trip with the other veterans.

Admirers from the crowd pose with vets Helmholts, left, Walston, and Lake just before the Marine's Sunset Parade.Leroy Ellis, a Vietnam vet, said the wall of names at the Vietnam Memorial was the focus of his trip. “All us guys from Vietnam all had something we felt at the wall that you can’t describe,” he said.

“There was one name I was looking for; he was my best friend in grade school and junior high. He got a Dear John letter over there and said he was not coming back. He got in a firefight and stood up and was killed. I found his name on the wall,” Ellis related.

Around the same time, Janice Smith, a Vietnam vet from Warm Springs, also found a name she was looking for and left flowers at the wall. Someone snapped a photo of Smith and Ellis hugging and consoling each other after discovering the names. “We needed each other right then,” Ellis said of the feeling of grief, flashback, closure and something he can’t describe that came over them.

Because Smith was in the group, they got a private tour of the Women In Military Service Memorial, which opened recently next to Arlington Cemetery. They also visited the National Museum of the American Indian.

While the group was touring the memorials, there were also many tourists and school groups on field trips who were eager to meet veterans.

“What impressed me were all the school groups that lined up to shake our hands and say thank you to us,” Ellis said. “One lady came up and gave all of us a hug and kiss. The guys’ grins were so big that I thought their faces would break,” Ellis said, laughing at the memory.

That was something new for Ellis. “When we got out of Vietnam we didn’t get a thank you. The World War II vets did, but not us,” he said of the war that was unpopular back home.

David Gibson, also a Vietnam vet, remembers Arlington Cemetery. “The awe of it all is beyond comprehension. The rows (of white gravemarkers) just don’t quit, they go on forever,” he said.

And like Ellis, being thanked by teachers and kids was a new experience for him. “I received two `Dear soldier’ thank you letters handed to me by eighth-grade kids. There were foreign groups, too, who either hugged us or shook our hands,” he said.

“It was almost overpowering. I’m from the Vietnam War, and you had to clam up and shut up (when you returned), and being thanked by young people was great,” Gibson said.

As the only Korean War vet, Malcolm Griswold said being presented with an American flag at the sunset parade made him feel special. He highly recommends that other people go to see the memorials in Washington, D.C.

The group stopped for a photo during a tour of the U.S. Capitol. From back left, Loyal Miller, Janice Smith, Larson Kalama Sr., David Gibson, Leroy Ellis, Malcolm Griswold, and Doris McLean. Front left, Earnie Walston, Frank Lake and Bud Helmholts.“Between the fantastic people I went with, and the fantastic things I got to see and do, it was a great trip. The warm wishes and handshakes from people we met took your breath away,” Griswold said, marveling, “People actually were conscious of what veterans had done in the wars.”

Tour leader Mike Williams remembers the beautiful four hours they spent greeting people and viewing the huge World War II Memorial. “My father was a World War II vet, and I washed my face in the water from the memorial fountains,” he said.

Henry “Bud” Helmholts, who lives at High Lookee Lodge in Warm Springs, and served as an instructor for the Sea Bees, said the sunset parade was one of his favorite things. “The Marine Band was spectacular. When I was in the service, I used to like to march to music – but that group was beyond compare,” he said.

Doris McLean said at the parade, when the Marines returned the flag to the barracks, “Bud stood up out of his wheelchair, saluted, and would not sit down until the ceremony was over. I was bawling.”

“The day before, I almost backed out of the trip because I didn’t want to be a burden. But I’m sure glad as hell I went,” Helmholts said.