Vietnam veteran reflects on Honor Flight
For nearly half a century, Bruce Bertram has waited to make good on a promise he made in the jungles of Vietnam.
The inaugural Vietnam Project Honor Flight was wheels up to Washington D.C. June 19-21, with Bertram and nearly 50 of his comrades in tow.
“It’s been 47 years for me to be able to return an item to the wall,” the 11th Air Combat Mobile Artillery veteran said. “I’ve been carrying this baggage for 47 years, since I had to identify it. I was able to give him this pen back. Finally, my baggage was empty.”
Drafted at age 25 after several failed health screenings because of multiple skiing injuries, Bertram served 20 months in the Army, 11 of those in Vietnam in 1968.
During those 11 months Bertram befriended Harry Desormeaux, who he later made a promise he’s kept since last month.
“I placed some items on a name I was unable to see for 47 years,” he said. “It was pretty heavy.”
Bertram placed a Pan Am stewardess pin he felt kept him safe in Vietnam under the name of a friend on the wall as tribute.
The Vietnam Project Honor Flight was funded though donations from individuals and groups, Bertram being sponsored by the Douglas County Republican Women and Gold Star Mom Sally Wiley.
Bertram was honored to be able to go as both a veteran and as someone that helped see the special sector of Honor Flight come to fruition.
“I think we personally went out and endeavored to get enough funds for this place because Vietnam veterans do not have a priority seat on regular Honor Flights,” Bertram said. “We are losing a lot of veterans and we have got to get them there. It was quite rewarding to be able to put together enough funds to go.”
The group toured all of the monuments, Bertram getting assistance from Tim Tatz, who knew them inside and out.
The Vietnam Wall Bertram had wanted to see for years, visiting the smaller traveling version numerous times as it came to the area.
Each time he was unable to leave the momento for his comrade, but his trip to Washington D.C. helped him let go, a goal he hoped the trip did for a lot of other veterans.
“I was able to leave that pin behind and fulfill that promise to him. It was a relief, but it left a void at the same time,” Bertram said. “There’s a void because you can’t do anymore. That’s the whole reason for the wall (closure).”
The group returned from their trip to the nation’s capital on Father’s Day, greeted by a crowd of more than 300 people Bertram said.
Bertram compared the trip’s significance in his life to the day he found his son after 38 years; another reminder of the war.
“Coming back on Father’s Day it was even more poignant,” he said. “I was able to, after 38 years, to find myself. It is still etched in my brain and this will be too. “
Bertram’s trip to the wall reminded him of the blessing he had in finding his son who was born two weeks before he left for Vietnam.
Albeit being emotional, pulling tears and sadness and remembrance that he didn’t think he could feel, Bertram said he is thankful he went and wants to continue raising funds for the next flight of Vietnam-era veterans so they can experience what he did.
“There are two kinds of vets and I want to help each with this trip,” he said. “One who doesn’t do anything about it (war memories). He just sticks his head in the sand. But to go to the wall and to touch the name of someone. It releases that baggage. It’s hard, you cry, but it opens some better doors for you to move on in your life.”