Twisp resident Jack Berg, was drafted into the U.S. Army a year after graduating from high school, at age 19. After boot camp and infantry training, both at Fort Lewis, Jack was sent to Wiesbaden Air Base (now Clay Kaserne) in Germany for jump school. Five jumps and five days later, Jack was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division for more training before being deployed to Vietnam in December 1967.
In Vietnam, Jack was promoted to sergeant and was in active duty during the Tet Offensive, Battle of Hue, and the Asau Valley Offensive. He was later awarded the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge.
Last month, Jack participated in an Honor Flight: a two-day tour of military memorials in Washington, D.C., dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of veterans. Sponsored by Inland Northwest Honor Flight, the trip included 108 veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars, plus a crew of guardians, who pay their own expenses and help with the logistics of the trip.
Jack’s wife, Judy, saw a magazine article about Honor Flights in 2018 and signed Jack up for the wait list. His name finally came up, but then COVID arrived, and everything went on hold. Then, earlier this past summer, the couple got an email about an Honor Flight in October.
“I almost didn’t go — I was getting cold feet,” Jack says. “But I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing experience.”
The schedule was whirlwind, taking advantage of every moment. Jack caught a pre-dawn flight on a Monday morning out of Spokane, along with many of the other veterans and their guardians. Jack didn’t know his guardian prior to the trip, but says “he’s my friend for life now.” After arriving in our nation’s capital at 4 p.m., the group toured several memorials before settling into a hotel for the night.
“The next morning, we were back at it,” Jack says. “Visiting all those memorials was a way for us to pay tribute to soldiers who did not come home.”
Jack was struck in particular by the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “As a military man, you respect that kind of precision,” he said.
Looking at the Washington Monument, Jack had a lighter moment: “I’m at the same place as Forrest Gump was!”
In past years, the Inland Northwest Honor Flight has included WWII veterans in addition to those who served in Vietnam and Korea. “This was their first flight without any WWII veterans,” Jack says. “That generation is passing and those who are still with us aren’t really able to travel.”
On the flight home, the guardians announced mail call. In Vietnam, Jack says, mail call was highly anticipated, as letters were the soldiers’ only connection to home. On the plane, the guardians pulled letters out of giant mail bags and distributed them to the veterans. Jack’s mail included cards from his 10 grandchildren. “I enjoyed that very much,” he says.
One of the most meaningful parts of the trip for Jack was the return back into the Spokane airport. “We got off the plane at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night and there was a band playing and at least 2,000 people there waving flags and asking to shake our hands. It was not at all what we expected.”
This reception was markedly different than the one Jack and his fellow soldiers received when they returned from Vietnam. “We didn’t get a big fanfare back then,” he said. “In fact, we got the opposite.”
“It was a healing experience,” Jack says of the trip. “I wish every veteran could go.”
Inland Northwest Honor Flight has taken 2,500 veterans on an Honor Flight since its inception in 2009, and hopes to make a larger dent in its lengthy waiting list before time runs out, according to the website. For more information visit inwhonorflight.org.