Thanks to the efforts of Nicole Jacowski, a 2014 Waupaca High School graduate and FFA member, three area veterans will participate in the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
“This is something that I am very proud of and something I always wanted to do,” Jacowski said. “But this is not about me. This is all about these veterans.”
Mike Thompson, president and co-founder of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight that covers the north central Wisconsin area, thanked Jacowski for making this possible.
“It’s important that we fly these men to see the memorials that honor them,” Thompson said. “We will never forget you and thank you for your service.”
“They sacrificed so much for us,” Jacowski said. “It only seems right that we do something for them.”
Veterans receiving the awards were Frank Ness, Michael Larsen and Donald McCaffrey. All three men served during the Vietnam War.
“This is the first recognition that we are receiving,” said Ness, who was an Army medic. “I am really looking forward to seeing it all. It’s going to be hard and very emotional.”
Ness reflected for a moment on the MIA bracelet that he wore for years.
“You were supposed to wear them until the soldier or their remains came home,” he said, noting that the bracelets were to honor and never forget the missing soldiers.
“His remains finally came home,” he said. “Now I am going to bring that bracelet with me on the honor flight and place it by the memorial wall.”
Michael Larsen’s emotions were running high just talking about the flight.
“I cried when I got the call from Nicole,” said Larsen.
“I need closure,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I had friends that did not make it back. I want to see their names on that wall and I want to say good-bye.”
Donald McCaffrey reflected about his experiences returning to the United States from Vietnam.
“After what I saw in Vietnam, I was just happy to be home,” McCaffrey said. “The first thing I did when I got here was kiss the ground.”
McCaffrey recalled telling someone about his service. “A woman who overheard our conversation, spit in my face,” he said. “It was hard coming home.”
McCaffrey thanked Jacowski for making the honor flight possible for him.
“You made my dreams come true,” he said. “There was one thing that I wanted to do before I die and it was to see that wall. Now I can pay my respect to those people that died before me, while I was there and after I left.”
At one time, McCaffrey had received a medallion from retired Lieutenant Colonel Jim Campbell.
“It read, ‘All gave some, some gave all,'” he said. “When he gave that to me, it was the first time I felt welcomed home. I am taking the medallion with me when I go. Those guys never got to hear that. I want to place it by the memorial, so they know that they too are finally welcomed home too.”
According to Thompson, more than 1,800 veterans have already flown on Honor Flights and 2,400 individuals have made donations to the project.
“Next week we are flying on mission No. 18,” Thompson said. “The flight will include 93 Korean, one Vietnam and two World War II vets. These flights are filled with a lot of emotion and a lot of tears. The thanks that these Veterans will receive are invaluable.”
“I have a lot of pride today in what Nicole has done to develop this whole thing,” said Waupaca High School Principal Carl Eggebrecht. “This program is bringing back an identity for our vets for the sacrifices they have made, for the good of our country.”