By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Nearly 20 veterans who served in various branches of military service from World War II through today were honored by students at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School. Held on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the event at St. Paul the Apostle Church honored all veterans.
Retired Major Tom Quinlan Jr. served in the Army from 1965-86 and saw combat in Vietnam. He described his own homecoming and the events leading up to it. “You see on TV today when a soldier or airman comes home from Iraq or Afghanistan that they are welcomed. I want to relate to you what happens right before we get to that happy point.”
Quinlan said in February 1970 he reported for duty about 6 a.m. in Vietnam. There was a note that said he was going home — that day. He immediately transferred his duties to someone else, packed his bags and headed to the airport. When the C-130 cargo airplane arrived, he got on board. He met two Army personnel he hadn’t seen in six months. But it was so noisy they couldn’t talk.
When they landed in Cam Ranh, they sat and talked while waiting for the next plane, sharing their happy and bad experiences with each other. By 1 a.m. they crawled into bunks to catch some sleep. Not long after, Quinlan was awakened for the final flight home. As the plane arrived at sunrise, Quinlan observed about 150 new soldiers arriving for duty in Vietnam. “They had the same look we had one year earlier. One of apprehension and some fear.”
Later, as the pilot on his plane announced they had left Vietnamese air space, Quinlan said he felt relief. He was safe. On the long journey across the Pacific, they were served a hot meal. “I hadn’t had a hot meal in a long time.” They eventually landed in Washington state. Quinlan made arrangements to fly back home to Philadelphia. “It was 3 in the morning in Seattle and 6 in the morning in Philly. I called the Mrs. and asked for a ride home. She said the car was broken. I knew she’d figure something out.”
When Quinlan arrived in Philadelphia he was greeted by his wife, 2-year-old son and his parents, who came with a car.
“You honor us just by being here — and listening to my story,” Quinlan told the students.
The second-, third- and fourth-graders sang “Thank You Veterans” while wearing American flag bandanas around their necks.
John Muenster, who served in the Navy from 1959-63, gave a presentation on the Congressional Medal of Honor. Established in 1862, the medal has been awarded to 3,466 individuals. Muenster focused on eight men who received the Medal of Honor for service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only one of the eight survived their heroic efforts.
Among those medal recipients who died was Michael Monsoor of the Navy. He had earned bronze and silver stars before throwing himself on a live grenade to protect others from death. Former President George W. Bush presented Monsoor’s family with his Medal of Honor.
“If you see a military person, thank them for their service. If you are asked who do you choose as a hero — think of these eight,” Muenster said. “Freedom isn’t free. More than 40 million have worn the uniform and 1 million have paid the ultimate price for freedom.”
Veterans who attended the St. Paul event received gifts and were acknowledged for their service.
A moment of silence was observed for those who gave their lives in service to their country. Students Brian Englander and Alix Gradin played Taps.
The event closed with the singing of “America the Beautiful” and the retirement of colors by the Pack 20 Boy Scouts at St. Paul’s.