The bus pulled out of Lawrenceburg on Friday, June 1 loaded with 55 people who had a goal: to visit various memorials in Washington, DC. The veterans on this bus were escorted as far as the Ohio State line by Lawrenceburg police.
P.G. Genthrup, who organized this trip for the veterans, was quick to point out that this is the 6th southeastern Indiana trip to Washington, DC from Lawrenceburg, that he has been "privileged" to organize. Genthrup felt these trips are important to help heal old wounds, for soldiers who never even got a 'thank you' when they returned home.
According to Genthrup, this would not have been possible without the help of the town of Lawrenceburg, and former mayor, Bill Cunningham, who joined the trip. Cunningham, along with Genthrup and William McClure, has spearheaded this Indiana veteran idea, in conjunction with the town of Lawrenceburg. Hollywood Casino is financing many of these veteran tours.
The bus tour guide was John Schuler. While in Washington, DC, the tour was privileged to have Jane Merryman as a step-on tour guide. Merryman had a lot of knowledge of the city. She revealed just enough about her life to share that her husband had served in the military and was eventually a three-star General who worked for the Pentagon.
Each time this bus tour takes place, there is one soldier who receives special honor. This trip it was Brett Bondurant of Lawrenceburg, a young man who has given so much for the cause of freedom.
Bondurant served in Afghanistan and lost both his legs in service to his country. The soldier appeared to be a quiet, well-mannered young man who seems to be comfortable in his own skin, even though he has lost both legs and is adjusting to wearing artificial ones. Janelle Bondurant, Brett's mom, told the story from her perspective.
According to Janelle, she had no way to go to him when he was injured and in the military hospital in Germany, but was fortunate to have a friend in Germany who stayed with him the entire time and kept them updated on his condition, which was a great blessing to the family. She related this is "a call no Mom wants to receive."
The family accompanied Brett on this trip: mom, dad, Grandma Judy, Grandpa Jerry, and Bondurant's wife, London. When Bondurant was asked how he got through losing his legs, he was quick to say that he was grateful he was able to "get help right away" when injured and wants very much to keep his job in the infantry, since he is still listed as being on active duty.
Also, on this trip was Bondurant's 17-year-old brother, Jordan. Jordan was the youngest member on the trip who had his picture taken with the oldest member of the tour, William M. McClure, aged 92.
Several memorials were visited during this trip. It began with visiting the site of the Flight 93 crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania and continued with trips to the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Korean Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Capitol building, the White House, and ended with Arlington Cemetery.
Along the way, there were special highlights. Those began with the escort out of town, which was totally unexpected for some of the men.
The trip continued with a stop at the site of Flight 93's heroic flight which ended in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Mark Morton, who was the bagpiper on this trip, said, "They made a choice to die on their terms and to take as few people as possible with them." The awe and respect paid to those on Flight 93 who were heroes, giving their last full measure of service for their country, set the tone for an emotional, powerful, profound trip that served as a reminder that there are real heroes in the everyday world and it is always appropriate to stop to say ‘thank you'.
At the Korean Memorial tourists stepped out of the crowd to take pictures with the veterans and say ‘thank you'.
Later, at the base of Lincoln's Memorial, a United States military representative presented Brett Bondurant with a special award while Mark Morton, bagpipe player, played "Amazing Grace." People stopped, removed their hats, and stood at attention in respect for a young man who truly loves his country.
Moving on to the Vietnam Wall Memorial, these veterans could pick out names on the wall of those who had been their friends. The World War II Memorial was another site where citizens continued to say 'thank you' to these veterans.
The biggest highlight, the icing on the cake, was when Brett Bondurant, along with Ebbie Meyer, Walt Bryant, and Jerry Bondurant, presented a wreath from the Southeastern Indiana veterans at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Another touching moment occurred at the Vietnam Wall as Bondurant placed a picture of David Stephen Lasitere, who was killed in the line of duty, while serving in the 25th Infantry in Vietnam.
Bondurant was greeted by another soldier, Nick Kleiss, from Champagne, Illinois, who thanked Bondurant for serving. Then, Kleiss' mother stepped forward to hug Bondurant and to spend a couple of minutes with Bondurant's mother, Janelle.
Time spent at the Iwo Jima Memorial, where people, including children, walked up to these men, shook their hands, looked them square in the eye, and said, ‘thank you'.
There was time to find out more about who these men on this trip were and what they had perceived as their mission. Their names were Tim, Elvis, Bill, Mark, Sonny, Dave, Terry, Richard, Jack, Tanne, Ebbie, Bob, Frank, Donny, Terry, Jim, Larry, P.G., Jim, Rick, Patrick, Ralph, Ron, Bob, Jerry, John, Pete, Donnie, Leonard, Bill, Doug, Carl, David, Rick, Steven, Brett, William, Walt, Jerry, Jim, Jerry, and Bob.
They represent ordinary names for ordinary Americans; yet, there was nothing ordinary about these men.
They have real lives and they were willing to give their last full measure of loyalty and devotion to their family, the people of the United States of America. Every one of them knew their mission: make sure America remained America - a place where citizens are free to be what they want to be.
They have served everywhere from Afghanistan, Japan, Korea, Germany, Vietnam, Guam, to various other islands. They represent wars or conflicts America has been involved in such as Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. They had served in all branches of the Armed Services: Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy.
All of these men performed whatever mission they were given with precision, grace, and certainty. They all said they knew the mission was to be sure their families and the greater family of the United States of America could remain free.
Their jobs ranged from infantry, hand-to-hand combat, serving as a farmer to feed people, driving vehicles, working on those vehicles, being a gunner on a jeep, border guards, driving a tank, serving as a barber, shooting big cannons, served as cooks, on call 24 hours a day for months, and dealt with wounded, dying or dead comrades.
Some served as officers, were career military, enlisted men, and drafted. Some of the men on this trip had served as engineers, bomb assembly workers, military police, guard duty, radio operators, building floating bridges, serving in artillery, as jet mechanics, trained pilots, communications and did shore bombardment. The list of things they did or needed to do seemed to go on and on.
When asked what they had missed the most while serving away from family and friends, they stated mostly that they missed family and friends. One young man missed being able to tuck his newborn baby into bed at night. Another soldier said he missed ice. Still another one said he had missed being able to drink a tall glass of cold milk. By the time milk arrived where he was stationed, it was always sour.
One Korean veteran from Versailles, Elvis Garman, stated that "he never thought he would live long enough to see the memorials in Washington, DC." But, he endured and was honored by people in the crowd at the Korean Memorial, where he proudly sat surrounded by well wishes and those who simply said, ‘thank you'.
Bob Wetzler, also from Versailles, served in Vietnam, one of five Marines who were on the bus and together for the first time since they left the war.
He told a story of how he and some others were on Hill Ten when they were ambushed and forced to kill a soldier on the opposite side. He had no choice and yet, they tried to see if they could help him, but he was dead. They found his diary which contained a picture of a beautiful girl, who may have been the man's sister, wife or girl. That picture haunted him for a long time. When he got home, he said he had a hard time adjusting but is grateful for all who were helpful and continue to be helpful to him, such as the Versailles American Legion.
Another man from Ripley County was Larry Shaufert from Milan, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, patrolling the rivers and running small boats up and down those rivers. His job was to transfer the injured and replacements.
Some other interesting tidbits include that, on this trip, there were a couple of brothers and there were these five Marines who were together again and enjoyed their time together very much on the trip. Those men were: Tanne Burton, Frank Cummins, Jack Day, Ebbie Roberts, and Bob Wetzler.
Some of these men were put in situations where they had to kill to save their lives and the lives of their fellow comrades in arms. Some of these men were actually injured in the line of duty with a total of eight men on the bus who had received a purple heart and one man who had received two purple hearts. None of these men were really comfortable talking about how they received these purple hearts.
All were in agreement that Brett Bondurant was and is the real hero. Heroes seem to come in all shapes. All 50 of these men are heroes who deserve a word of thanks.