By Claire Walla
Occurring on 11.11.11, this year Veteran’s Day already seems more epic than most.
But for four Sag Harbor residents, its significance doesn’t stop there. The holiday will also be marked by an Odyssey nearly 40 years in the making, during which the four Vietnam veterans will journey to Washington D.C. and visit the Vietnam Memorial for the very first time.
“On behalf of everyone, we really appreciate the opportunity to go down there,” said Daniel Sabloski, an Honor Flight participant who grew up in Sag Harbor and served as a combat soldier in Vietnam for 11 months. “I look forward to going,” he continued. “This is something I feel I need to do.”
He will be joined by Sag Harbor residents Jay Babcock, Richard Henn and Steve Peters, as well as nearly 40 other veterans from Long Island. The entire event will also include veterans from Philadelphia and Atlanta, bringing the total number of participants to over 120.
The event was organized by Honor Flight Long Island, which operates out of the Department of Human Services at Southampton Town. Bill Jones, the director of human services who graduated from West Point and served in Vietnam shortly after the end of the war, will also accompany the veterans.
As someone who’s been to the Vietnam Memorial—and someone who’s attended many Honor Flight trips in the past—Jones said he expects the journey to be a powerful, emotional experience for all those involved.
“I was really moved by it,” Jones said of his visit to the memorial back in the ‘80s. The stone wall is a zig-zagging surface that holds more than 57,000 names. “It’s not a minute’s walk,” he continued. “It takes you a long time to see it all.”
“I know that what the guys talk about more than anything is the fact that every single name is up on that wall,” Jones continued. “It’s not just a general memorial for those who fought, but it’s for those who died, too. That’s extremely personal.”
The Honor Flight crew is taking a handful of “guardians” with them, one of whom is Richard Henn from Sag Harbor, so that veterans will be able to experience the memorial with somewhat of a support network.
“I know it’s going to be difficult for a lot of the guys going down, they’ve already expressed that to me,” Jones added. “Although I didn’t experience it myself, the loss of life right next to you is hard to talk about,” Jones said. “But Honor Flight has allowed that to happen.”
Jones said one of the most important things Honor Flight does is it gives veterans the chance to talk to one another about experiences that they’ve all shared; experiences they are not necessarily able to talk about with those who haven’t experienced war.
“They think a lot about it,” he continued. “[War] leaves such an indelible mark, if you’ve served for one year in Vietnam or three or four years in World War II.”
Over the past four years, Honor Flight has worked to bring nearly 750 veterans of World War II down to D.C. to visit the World War II memorial. And while Honor Flight’s mission remains dedicated to veterans of WWII—whom they hope to accommodate first, as that population continues to age—the trip to the Vietnam Memorial came to fruition because of a special project funded entirely by the History Channel.
According to Virginia Bennet, deputy director of the Southampton Town Human Services Department, the grant from the History Channel “paid for everything.”
She explained that the History Channel—which aired its three-part series on the Vietnam War earlier this week—is working in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) to collect photographs of every single person whose name appears on the Vietnam memorial wall in D.C. The photographs will be part of an interactive exhibit at the VVMF Education Center that’s expected to open in 2014.