Throughout the next month, we are sharing the stories of four veterans we followed aboard HonorAir Knoxville Flight 21. It was the first flight devoted to all Vietnam veterans. A total of 149 troops made the all-expenses paid trip up and back in the same day to Washington to see the war memorials.
Ron Mayes was 20 years old when he was drafted in the Army. His tour in Vietnam crossed from 1967 into 1968. His primary mission was to stop enemy supplies from coming over the border with Cambodia. The son of a pastor survived combat, the loss of friends, and even the grim job of preparing troops killed in action for their trip back to the states. We follow him as he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Mayes also took time to answer the following 10 questions about the impact his military service had on the rest of his life.
1. What one person influenced you most in life?
I’d say my father. He World War II veteran and minister. He never made over $80 dollars a week in his life. The reason I say that is he accepted life as it was. Very laid back person.
2. Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country?
No sir. Not more many years after the treatment we received when we first came home. After I got back from war, I was unable to find employment and felt discrimination as a veteran of Vietnam. People looked at me in a negative light because of my service from Vietnam. The welcome home this month helped me see people do appreciate my service.
3. How can people thank you for your service?
I think by being understanding. If people say welcome home, that means a lot. The HonorAir Knoxville welcome was incredibly important and moving for me. That helped change some of my attitudes about people.
4. How do you honor your fellow service men and women?
I never cease to speak to one if I see them. I always talk to them. When I thank them for their service they know what I’m talking about. For Vietnam veterans I say "welcome home"
5. How do you think this generation of military men and women is different or similar to yours?
I think they are different because they have the support of the people.
I think America is paying attention to veterans now and it is recognized now more than when we went over and that’s important.
I have met some Gold Star families who have lost loved ones. They endure a shared grief no matter the war or generation. I have deep sadness, respect, and honor for their loss.
6. What influence did your military service have on the rest of your life?
I have a short temper. I still have nightmares. People don’t seem to understand the psychological battle that we endured then and now.
I was extremely proud of serving with those men in Vietnam.
I understand what it is like to serve something greater than myself.
7. Does your family have a history of military service?
My father in WWII.
My uncles served in the military. One of those uncles stormed the beach in Normandy.
8. Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the service?
I certainly would.
1) Support our country
2) It teaches you about someone beside yourself
3) It opens your eyes to what the world is really like.
9. How has your opinion of war changed?
I’ve had a lot of people talk about ‘war is hell’
I’m of the opinion that war has to happen to maintain what we have. I think it is necessary in the world we live in today.
10. How did your military experience shape your faith?
When there were 19 of us out of 295. I’ve often wondered why my name wasn’t up there of The Memorial Wall. I believe with all my heart someone was watching out for me.