Nebraska Veterans Travel to D.C. to Visit War Memorials

The WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. (File Photo)
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May 24, 2019 - 6:45am

A group of Nebraska veterans is in Washington D.C. today to visit war memorials there. The Nebraska Purple Heart Flight is just in time for Memorial Day on Monday. 

Fred Craigie spent 26 years working for Lincoln Public Schools. Before that, he framed houses for 15 years. And before that he was a U.S. Marine in Vietnam.

After his draft deferment changed, he joined the Marines, more by chance than by choice.

“My father was a WW2 Army veteran and my brother was in the Navy, so I thought I’d join the Air Force, but he was out to lunch so I’m walking down the hall in the recruitment, in the old post office, and a gentleman in a set of dress blues said, ‘Son, can I help you?’ and off I went,” Craigie said.

Craigie served as an ammunition technician. It was a big job. At one point, his operation dealt with 26,000 tons of ammunition.

“When I started out, I was moving boxes, loading boxes. The ammo would come in and we’d break it down from pallets and inventory it. And then I had the opportunity to move into the office and take care of the opportunity to take care of the inventory for the entire operation, so that was a self-preservation. It was out of the rain so I figured it was a good thing to do,” Craigie said.

Craigie’s time in the service was relatively short. That’s how Robert Tobin expected his career to go.

“I never intended to stay 30 years. My assumption was here I was joining as a private. I would hopefully be promoted into the sergeant ranks. I never expected to get as far as lieutenant colonel. That would have been… completely unexpected,” Tobin said.

But that’s exactly what happened. Unlike many of his military predecessors who were drafted into service, Tobin enlisted by choice.

“I saw it as kind of a civic obligation like registering to vote and voting in elections. And I’d hoped eventually to serve on a jury, because I saw those as the natural civic obligations. I still have not been called up to serve on a jury,” Tobin said.

Military service was a dangerous calling to pursue for Tobin. He eventually received a Purple Heart medal.

“I was wounded one day. I was just minding my own business really, and an enemy 107 millimeter katyusha rocket detonated eleven meters behind me. It picked me up and threw me and I received a head and neck wound,” Tobin said.

After he recovered, Tobin spend seven years as an instructor for the Army Reserve teaching Army majors about to deploy at different locations around the country.

The Army didn’t sound appealing to Bob Doty when he got his draft notice during the Vietnam War, so he joined the Navy. He was a corpsman at a military hospital in Guam. He described the long days he spent there.

“At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968 we had 1,500 patients in our 950-bed hospital, so they were everywhere, and we were getting air-evacs from Vietnam six nights a week,” Doty said.

Now, years after his military service ended, Doty volunteers at the VA Hospital in Lincoln.

“Our veterans’ hospital here does a really good job, but still, war takes a toll on everybody. Nobody wins in a war. There are just losers. Bigger losers and smaller losers, but nobody wins a war,” Doty said.

Because of the toll war takes, Doty is happy to see the culture around veterans returning home has changed.

“When the Vietnam veterans came home, we got no welcome. We were not welcomed because the war was not a popular war, so to see the public supporting the veterans that are coming home now is… I’m really happy that they don’t have to go through the same ordeal that the Vietnam veterans did,” Doty said.

Just as they did when they first came home from war, the veterans travelling to DC today carry with them stories that will resonate far beyond this Memorial Day.

Veterans and families on the honor flight will be welcomed home this evening with a parade down 10th street in Downtown Omaha, ending at the Durham Museum. It is expected to start around 9 pm central time.



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