WV veterans share memories as they tour memorials

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) Over 20 veterans from West Virginia took a trip to the nation’s capital on an honor flight. The trip gives these men and women some recognition and appreciation for their service to their country.

The veterans drove out before dawn on Wednesday for Washington D.C. When they arrived, they visited their war monuments and met with Sen. Joe Manchin (D) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R).

Don Mathena, a Vietnam veteran has waited years for this day to come. He said he finally feels his service has been appreciated.

“I think it’s sort of a wish come true,” Mathena said. “When we came back from Vietnam, they didn’t bother to welcome us back or anything. After 40 years, they’re starting to do that.”

Mathena, who says his own children were unaware that he served in Vietnam, explained that his visit to the nation’s capital was an emotional one.

“You feel a lot of emotion. This represents all of the people that died for our country. It’s for them, not for me.”

Around every turn, there were strangers waiting for a chance to simply say thank you.

"That warms my heart and my spirit,” said Ricky Williams, a Vietnam veteran. “It’s honest and sincere from the heart and you can tell, you can tell."

For many in this group, their last mobilization couldn’t have been more different.

"We came home and that was it,” Mathena explained. “Nothing, nobody said anything to us, it was like we had never gone."

Raymond Palmer, another Vietnam veteran, described a similar experience.

“We never had it, when we came in,” Palmer said, “we was disrespected.”

It was a first for these veterans, seeing the soldiers frozen in time at the Vietnam memorial. When many laid eyes on their monument, over four decades of emotions began to flow.

"What I've seen, what I've taken in with all the monuments and the people, the strangers I've met and the group of vets I've been with all day, is it’s a blessing,” Williams said. “I couldn’t ask for no more. It’s a blessing.”