40 Spalding-Bergan vets take Honor Flight, honor the ‘Ten on the Wall’
Our nation celebrates and thanks its military veterans this weekend, but almost a month ago the Peoria Catholic high school community remembered and honored the sacrifices of its alumni who served during the Vietnam War era.
Forty alumni of the former Spalding Institute and Bergan High School who are Vietnam or Vietnam-era veterans were among 70 former service personnel who took part in a Greater Peoria Honor Flight to the war memorials in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16.
And while their service was recognized throughout the day — including at a boisterous welcome home reception late that night at General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport — the 40 went mostly to remember the “Ten on the Wall.”
“Their sacrifice was permanent,” said Bob LaHood of the nine Spalding graduates and one Bergan alumnus whose names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall because they died in service in Vietnam or Southeast Asia or are missing in action. “Ours was temporary.”
REWARDING, EMOTIONAL DAY
LaHood, a 1966 Spalding graduate, was among the organizers of the movement to recognize “Ten on the Wall” and last month’s Honor Flight was the culmination of four years of planning.
“It was so rewarding I can’t explain,” said LaHood, who in 1972 was a U.S. Marine flying helicopters off two ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. He welled up with emotion as he recalled the events of the day that included a surprise welcome at the airport in Washington, a police escort through the streets of the nation’s capital, and a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The ceremony included a reflection on “The Boys of ‘66” read by Spalding graduate Dave Jochman, who is now chaplain for the Marine Corps League in Las Vegas. At the intersection of the v-shaped wall, LaHood and two other group representatives placed a shadow box containing the names of their 10 fallen classmates, their symbolic dog tags, and a “Ten on the Wall” t-shirt with logo as taps was played by a bugler.
“It was over and above anything I could have imagined,” agreed Bob Brophy, another organizer and Spalding Class of 1966 member. “An awful lot of Vietnam veterans on this flight will remember this forever.”
RECOGNITION AND HEALING
Among those memories will be of the welcome home reception, the likes of which Vietnam veterans did not receive upon their return from a war that many opposed at the time.
The airport lobby was crowded with hundreds of well-wishers, many from the Peoria Catholic community. Among the first to greet the returning veterans were members of the Peoria Notre Dame football team in uniform as well as the Irish cheerleading squad, some of whom had relatives on the flight.
“That made it really special,” said LaHood. “To see those younger kids out there as late as it was that night. That was a really satisfying moment for us.”
“Forty-eight years ago when I came home from Vietnam, only five family members greeted me at the Peoria airport,” recalled Phillip Anton, a 1967 Bergan graduate, writing on the “Ten on the Wall” site on Facebook the morning after the Honor Flight. “Last night, I was moved and honored to see all the people there to greet us.”
“Ten on the Wall” organizers expressed gratitude to Greater Peoria Honor Flight officials for their coordination of the day. And they take satisfaction that their four-year effort identified nearly 300 graduates of Spalding, Bergan, and Academy of Our Lady — predecessors to the current Peoria Notre Dame — who served in the Vietnam era.
“It was just a blessing,” said Brophy, who in 1969 fought with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku, Vietnam. Like many Vietnam veterans, Brophy has struggled with health problems resulting from exposure to chemicals used in combat such as Agent Orange. He is now nearly blind.
“I’m sure the Lord was speaking to each of the guys in his own way” on the Honor Flight, said Brophy. “That there would be some healing in their life.”
THE 10 AND THE 40
The 10 graduates whose names are on the wall include Spalding graduates Harold Alwan, John Banister, Patrick Bohan, Joseph Clinch, William DeBates, Merle Dentino, Michael Moran, Michael Stacy, and Joseph Workman and Bergan graduate Daniel Farrell. Their stories are told on the “Ten on the Wall” Facebook site.
Spalding and Bergan Vietnam-era veterans who took part in the Oct. 16 Honor Flight included:
From Spalding Institute:
- Class of 1958: John Grow
- Class of 1961: James Anstett, Robert Clark
- Class of 1963: Jim Becker, Richard Stalter
- Class of 1964: Robert Anton, Scott Kedzior, Dennis LaHood
- Class of 1965: Alfred Beharelle, Thomas Bencher, John Cahill, Terrence Donahue, Dennis Doolan, Bob Franken, Jose Huerta, George Saal, William Turner, Phillip Urban, David Walder, and Terry White
- Class of 1966: Paul Baker, Robert Brophy, Michael Closen, Greg Gebhards, David Jochman, Robert LaHood, Charles Maroon, John Niehaus, Daniel Pagan, Timothy Shea, James Stepzinski
- Class of 1967: Ramon Huerta, James O’Laughlin, Carl Schaidle III
From Bergan High School:
- Class of 1967: Phillip Anton, Garry Goett, and John Kelly