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Stars, Stripes and Service

One Wisconsin member takes a trip nearly 40 years in the making.

One early September morning in 2018, John Kohout, St. Anthony 2046, Castle Rock, Wis. was dropped off at the airport in Madison, Wis., ready for his Badger Honor Flight, the purpose of which is to ensure that veterans from any war can see the memorials that have been erected in their honor.John is a veteran of the Vietnam War and never fully received his due thanks because of anti-war protesting at the time he was discharged. The Badger Honor Flight was set to fix that, giving veterans a friendly greeting when they landed in Washington, D.C. and then again on their return to Madison. John was selected to participate in one of these flights, which he calls “the trip of a lifetime”.

Accompanied by his son Valarian, the two were in for a full day of site-seeing and, as John said, “[Receiving closure for] wounds of the Vietnam war, demonstrators back home, and the draft-dodgers.” They visited Arlington Cemetery, encompassing approximately 600 rolling acres with gravestones in straight lines as far as the eye can see, the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and of course the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall where more than 58,000 names of those killed are engraved. John recalls that the trip gave him insight into how many men and women died in the wars, and emotions were high when they boarded the plane for their return trip: “Tears shed, heart aching, adrenaline pumping and it was a surprise to have ‘Mail Call’ like we had in service but with a whole lot more letters to read. [I had] a warm feeling and an appreciation for serving as I read through those letters.”

They were greeted at the Madison airport, this time with thousands of people awaiting their arrival. John said, “We started our walk to the cheering crowd with tears, an overwhelming feeling, hugs, handshakes, shouts of ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’.” The trip offered them all a chance to acknowledge and give closure to their common experience as veterans of war. Anti-war protest songs got them through the war itself by recognizing their loneliness and uncertainty about returning home, but nothing could fully help them accept their experiences after they did come home like the Badger Honor Flight helped John.

Back in Wisconsin, as a member of St. Anthony 2046, John has been Chief Ranger of his court since 2011, along with holding other offices. His son Valarian said he is proud of his dad: “I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but what I experienced was veterans being healed from the Vietnam War…no words can describe the feeling of seeing them and their reactions.”

The Honor Flight was a special opportunity for both father and son, renewing their minds with a newfound appreciation for service and their hearts with a healing warmth that has eased the ache of old war wounds.  



Article by Alison Mink.

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