For the first time, a contingent of Vietnam War veterans next month will be among those taking an Honor Flight to Washington.
They will board police-escorted motor coaches and visit war memorials in the nation’s capital. They’ll see the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Then they’ll return home to the traditional heroes’ welcome at Palm Beach International Airport — one different from the cold, often harsh reception some of them got when they came home decades ago.
Allan Monack, a retired dentist now living in suburban Boynton Beach, spent a year in Vietnam ducking mortar and pulling shrapnel out of his fellow soldiers’ faces. He is looking forward to being one of 27 Vietnam veterans from that war who’ll fly to Washington on Oct. 13.
“I’m honored to represent the military that went to Vietnam and served the best they could under the circumstances,” Monack said this week. “No regrets.”
Honor Flights initially were for World War II veterans, then expanded to Korean War veterans. Since 2008, the Stuart-based group Southeast Florida Honor Flight has taken more than 2,650 veterans from Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties to Washington free of charge.
A few Vietnam vets have flown on Honor Flights in special cases, such as one who was dying of cancer. But "as numbers of WWII and Korean War veterans wane," the group has made Vietnam veterans eligible for every trip.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight feels “proud and privileged that we can now also honor our Vietnam War veterans, who we all know never received a welcome or gratitude, in fact much more of the opposite,” Honor Flight Chair Todd Tucker said in a prepared statement.
Monack, 76, who grew up in New Jersey, was at the University of Pennsylvania's school of dentistry in Philadelphia, but because he'd been in the ROTC earlier at Rutgers University, he knew he probably would be drafted, so he enlisted.
The day he graduated, his first son was born. Four months later, he entered the Army. He and his wife and son spent a year at a base near Seattle before he got his orders to ship out with the dental corps in September 1969.
"There were no front lines in Vietnam," Monack said. He said he was shot at a few times. He had to deal with plenty of dental problems but also head- and neck-trauma cases.
At one point, he said, a miscommunication left him and a handful of medical and mechanical specialists alone at an abandoned military base near a Viet Cong-friendly village.
They were there for an unsettling 42 days before the cavalry arrived. In this case, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which had been in Cambodia. For what, "they didn’t tell us," he said. "We didn’t have a need to know."
Monack returned stateside in September 1970 and left the Army with a Bronze Star.
"The day I came home," he said, "my wife met me at the airport and my son held up a sign that said, ‘Daddy, we're having a baby.’"
Monack operated a private practice in northern New Jersey for decades and also was a professor at nearby Fairleigh Dickinson University. He and his wife raised two sons and a daughter. He and his wife were snowbirds for years. Five years ago, he retired and the couple became full-time Florida residents.
"I never got dissed when I came back" from Vietnam, Monack said. But for several years, "I never talked about some of the bad stuff," he said.
"I was afraid of the animosity and backlash, but I never felt it at home and never had anybody gave me grief about serving my country, which I was proud to do," he said.
Forty-five veterans from other wars also will fly to Washington on Oct. 13, including 14 from World War II, 41 from the Korean War, and 27 from Vietnam. They are Army (40), Navy (19), Air Force (19) and Marine Corps (4). Positions include jet pilot, infantryman, electrician, deckhand, navigator and motor pool mechanic. Two fought at Iwo Jima; others were in combat at various points in Vietnam.
The public is invited to the heroes’ welcome that night at PBIA. It will be on Level 2 of Concourse A-B, with the plane due to arrive at 7:20 p.m. People should bring flags and signs, and the 32-member King’s Regiment Marching band from Kings Academy in suburban West Palm Beach will perform.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight, one of more than 130 such groups nationwide, has 2019 flights scheduled for April 13 and May 11, and it is asking for the public’s help to find veterans who qualify and haven't yet taken an honor flight. Flights are open to veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, with priority given to those from World War II or veterans with terminal illnesses. Honor Flight also seeks volunteers to escort the veterans.
To learn more about the honor flights, or to volunteer as an escort or make a donation, call 855-FLYAVET (855-359-2838) or visit www.honorflightsefl.org.