Each year players and coaches with the UW-Oshkosh football team volunteer to assist area veterans on and off an honor flight during EAA AirVenture.
Football player Miles Oney felt an extra-special connection with area Vietnam veterans returning Friday night (July 26) from an Old Glory Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He is a veteran himself.
A 27-year-old sophomore at UW-Oshkosh, Oney served a tour from 2012 to 2013 in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army medic. He also served 10 months in Korea during nearly eight years in the service.
"It's definitely a good feeling helping the veterans," he said as the Honor Flight carrying 115 veterans was about to land.
Oney hails from Crown Point, Ind., but now lives in Oshkosh.
When he was in the service, he met a soldier from Brandon who told him about UW-Oshkosh. Oney said he explored the school and found he could play football and pursue a nursing degree, the same career held by his mother.
"I generally like helping people," he said.
The UW-Oshkosh football team had early-morning and evening duty with the flight. The veterans whirlwind trip included stops at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Arlington National Cemetery.
UW-Oshkosh assistant coach Luke Venne said the football players help any way they can, and they've been helping for a number of years.
Jim Zahn of Rosendale (Wis.) served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. His wife, Jeanne, and other family members were on hand at the EAA AirVenture Boeing Plaza. They waved flags and signs, welcoming Zahn home with fanfare not displayed when many of these soldiers returned from service.
Zahn attended UW-Oshkosh in the 1960s, known then as Wisconsin State College Oshkosh.
Donna Metzler of Suamico was in the crowd with her children and a number of other family members waiting for her husband, Andy Metzler, to return from the flight.
She said her husband doesn't talk about his service in Vietnam, but the week before the trip, he had a dream about it.
Donna said the two were married in February 1971 and he was deployed the following month.
"I went back home and lived with my mom and dad," she recalled.
Herb Casey drove from Whitewater to greet each veteran with a handshake and the words, "welcome home."
Casey, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam and was awarded multiple Purple Heart medals, said the veterans will never forget the Honor Flight experience.
"They threw pig's blood on us and called us 'baby killers,'" he said about their return from Vietnam in the '60s and '70s. "They (veterans) have to be feeling very proud today."
Casey said his good friend Mike Kahlhamer of Fond du Lac was on the Honor Flight.
The two are part of the national group, Purple Heart Riders – a national association of motorcycle enthusiasts who possess a Purple Heart because they were wounded in combat.
Kahlhamer, a retired Fond du Lac firefighter who received a Purple Heart after he was shot in the leg and pelvis, had nearly a dozen family members on hand Friday night.
His son, Matt, said his dad was "really happy" with the special events connected to the Honor Flight.
"They deserve this," Casey said as proud veterans made their way through the mass of cheering onlookers.
Written by Laurie Schlosser, UW-Oshkosh University Marketing & Communications