Three local veterans go on honor flight


Hours before daybreak, veterans pulled into the parking lot at Plainfield High School for a trip 50-plus years in the making.

After stepping out of their vehicles, the men were greeted by a large crowd with cheers, handshakes and hugs.

Men, women and children had conglomerated at the school waiting to meet the group before takeoff at 4:30 a.m.

Soon after the buses loaded, a police escort guided the group of 85 to Indianapolis International Airport, where a plane reserved for the veterans parked ready to transport them to Washington, D.C.

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Among the men on that Indy Honor Flight this past weekend were Seymour residents Stephen Barrett, Gary Dyer and Jack Schrader.

Indy Honor Flight transports World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans to see their war memorials and the national monuments in Washington, D.C., for free. Each veteran is assigned a guardian for the day who pays their own way on the trip.

The nonprofit organization was created solely to honor Indiana’s veterans for their service and sacrifice, and top priority is given to the oldest veterans and terminally ill veterans.

Schrader, 76, a U.S. Army armored intelligence specialist who was drafted in 1965 and served until 1967, was stationed 2 miles away from the DMZ in Korea with the 73rd Tank Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division. He was on the DMZ for 13 months.

He said he was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people waiting to meet the veterans.

“As soon as you got out of the car, everyone wanted to shake your hand and thank you for your service,” Schrader said. “Before you got in the building, there had to be 15 to 20 people stopping you, and it was the same when you walked inside. It was fantastic. I’ve never shook so many hands in my life.”

Once the plane landed in the nation’s capital, the veterans received another warm welcome, this time from strangers waiting for their flights in the hub.

Red, white and blue buses brought the veterans around the National Mall.

At the memorial for Vietnam veterans, Dyer, 72, who served from 1967 to 1968 in the U.S. Army with the Black Lions in the 1st Battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment, found names of men who he served with that had died in combat. Dyer was 18 when he stepped foot in Vietnam.

“It was a trip where I laughed and cried, and then laughed again and cried some more,” Dyer said.

While stopping at the memorials was emotional for many, Barrett said it was good for the veterans to experience it together.

“There’s this camaraderie with talking with other people,” he said. “To me, one of the good things about it is for people that might have some issues with their time in combat and being with others that were in similar scenarios to talk.”

Barrett, 77, was active duty with the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman from 1961 to 1967. He said was stationed in San Diego, California, on the USNS Comfort in the ’60s.

His military career didn’t end there, as he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1982. Barrett served with the 4th Medical Battalion before spending his final eight years in the reserves and retiring in 2002. He gave 24 years, five months and eight days of service.

“A lot of guys, like myself, were in the country (in the 1960s). I didn’t consider myself to be eligible for something like this,” Barrett said. “(Honor Flight) has the mindset, as a lot of these organizations do, that if you served — period — in the time frame, you’re eligible, whether you were stateside or not.”

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole also was at the monuments and met with the veterans. Barrett said one of his biggest highlights was meeting Dole and taking a photo with the 96-year-old.

Other stops on the trip included Arlington National Cemetery, which contains the graves of more than 400,000 servicemen and women. The cemetery was established during the Civil War.

Before flying back the same day, veterans on the Indy Honor Flight received mail from an array of people thanking them for their service.

The veterans returned around 8 p.m. to Plainfield High School, but the day wasn’t over there, as the gym was filled with family members and volunteers.

All of the veterans took home a large image from their military service, and each guardian on the trip carried it behind the veteran as they were announced during a walk around the gym.

“It was the opposite of 1968,” Dyer said. “There were people all over cheering and waving. I’ve never had so many hugs and handshakes. We went inside, and there were people lined up and down all the halls. There were children, adults, parents and friends.”

Schrader said when he returned home from the war, he didn’t tell other people he had served.

“When we came back, it was terrible. You were shunned,” he said. “Nobody wanted anything to do with you at the time. I never told anyone I was even in the service. I never joined a veterans organization until 1975.

“It’s a fulfilling thing for you. When I got back, we were treated bad. They were waiting at airports and were throwing eggs at us and calling us every name in the book. The WWII guys had their parades and everything else when they came back to the states. The Korea guys didn’t have a welcome, either, but they didn’t have it as bad as we did.”

All three men said they would recommend the trip to any veteran eligible to go.

“You’re a VIP,” Barrett said. “The analogy I used with my guardian was it’s like having a caddie for a pro golfer. That caddie does everything for that golfer. They do everything. You’re treated like a king for a day.”

Dyer said it was his birthday the day of the trip, and he couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

“I have never in 72 years experienced the love and kindness of people for being a veteran like I did this time,” he said.

While it took 50 years, Schrader said he was thankful for the opportunity.

“It made you feel great,” he said. “You got your welcome home. That’s what you’re looking for with the whole program. I think anyone that has served should fill out an application to do this.”

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Indy Honor Flight transports World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans to see their war memorials and the national monuments in Washington, D.C., for free.

For information about Indy Honor Flight, visit or email [email protected].


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