Vietnam Vet Louis Gamelin Gets Hero's Welcome HomeIssue Date: May 31, 2018
Vietnam War Veteran Louis Gamelin, of W1728 Cleveland Ave., Marinette and 91 other veterans on Old Glory Honor Flight 45 got a huge hero's welcome home when their plane landed at the Appleton International Airport on Wednesday, May 23. Gamelin was thrilled to find many members of his own family among the hundreds waiting to welcome them, and to celebrate his safe return from Vietnam 44 years ago.
Like other veterans on the 44 previous tours, they had been treated royally on their trip to our nation's capital in Washington, DC.spent the day spending the day visiting monuments and sightseeing in Washington, D.C.
Old Glory Honor Flight is an all volunteer organization dedicated to serving war veterans of northeast WI. Since its start in 2009, its mission has been to offer World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans from northeast Wisconsin a memorable, safe and rewarding tour of honor to our nation's Capital, and they have been carrying out that mission very well indeed.
Aboard Honor Flight 45 with Gamelin were two World War II veterans, Five Korean War Veterans and 85 Vietnam Veterans.
On the trip, each veteran has a guardian to make life easier for the veteran they are assigned to serve. He enjoyed his day in the company of his guardian, Jamie Kuhn, a detective for Oconto Falls Police Department. Gamelin said he and Kuhn met at a parking lot in Oconto, then drove together to Appleton for the 6 a.m. flight to Washington.
Upon arriving at the Washington airport they were met by a police escort that accompanied them throughout the day. They visited numerous monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, the Korean Monument, the Marine Corps Monument and the Vietnam Wall. They were at Arlington Cemetery for Changing of the Guard. They drove past the White House but did not go inside.
"It was a pretty packed day. To save time, box lunches with Arby's sandwiches were served to them aboard the busses while they traveled from site to site.
There was mail call during the flight back to Wisconsin, and the veterans were given cards and letters sent to them from folks back home. Gamelin's granddaughter, Willow, daughter of Chassie and Matt Olsen of Crivitz, is a 4K student at Crivitz Elementary School. His mail call "booty" included hand drawn pictures from every student in her class. He was impressed that they can't write letters yet, but they all drew pictures. He had visited the class on Tuesday, May 29, to thank them for their pictures. He said he shook their hands, and spent perhaps a quarter of an hour with them, talking about his experiences and showing photos of the Navy ship he had served on. "They were all excited," he said.
Before becoming an assistant physical therapist Chassie had worked for 14 years at New Care in Crivitz and nearly all the current residents of New Care sent him letters for mail call, thanking him for his service, as did a friend one of his daughters had gone to school with.
When their plane got back to Appleton at about 8:30 p.m. the welcoming crowd was hidden behind a large curtain. After being met by greeters and listening to some closing speeches, the curtain opened and everyone was there, along with a band to make things even more festive. After visiting and sharing tales of the day's adventures, it was time for the drive home.
Gamelin had waited nearly three years for this trip. He is not a member of any veteran's organizations, and had learned about the program from a woman who worked at Tri County Credit Union. She told him her brother had gone on an Old Glory Honor flight and suggested he should apply. She gave him an application form and he sent it in, but there was no response. That was in 2015. The next year he applied again, and again there was no response.
From the start, priority for space on Old Glory Honor Flights went first to World War II veterans, then Korean veterans and then Vietnam veterans, provided there was still room.
This year people from the Old Glory Honor Flight organization called with the news that his turn had come, if he still wanted to go. He did, and he's very happy that he went.
"I want to thank the Old Glory Honor Flight committee for everything they did to make our day memorable!" Gamelin declared.
Gamelin graduated from Marinette High School in June of 1970. The draft was still going on and with his A-1 draft rating, he knew he would be called, so he joined the Navy. He said being drafted to the Army meant only a 2-year hitch, while Navy enlistment was for four years, but he felt being in the Navy would be safer and better.
He entered the Navy in September of 1970. He was in service from 1970 to 1974, and served on the aircraft carrier, USS Constellation. He worked catapults launching jets on the flight deck. "That was quite the experience," he commented.
His four years in the Navy included two partial tours of duty in Vietnam, for which he got the Vietnam Service Medal twice. He said normally each tour of duty lasted six months but he actually served only two partial tours.
The Constellation was already in Vietnam when he got orders to join it. He flew to the Philippines, then after a couple of weeks they put him on a supply ship that was supposed to rendezvous with his ship, but that didn't happen. Then they helicoptered him to another ship, and then finally helicoptered him to the carrier. They landed at night, because of the dangers of a daylight landing.
The carrier would be in South Vietnam for a couple of weeks, then go to North Vietnam for another month or so, then back to port to get supplies and go back north again.
When he was on deck in a battle area he would launch strikes every hour.
His second 6-month tour of duty was shortened because his enlistment ended. While he was there, however, their ship got the Presidential Unit Citation Medal.
Then it was back to the States and civilian life in 1974. He and the former Julie St. Peter were married in January of 1976, and they have been married for 42 years. He worked at Waupaca Foundry a couple years, then got laid off and went to work for the City of Marinette Parks Department for six to eight months. The foundry needed workers again, and offered him a raise to come back. He did that, for about a year, and then was hired by Scott Paper Company, where he worked for 19 years, until they downsized in 1998. Then it was back to Waupaca Foundry for a year and a half, and then to L E. Jones for for 14 years, until he retired in 2013.
Gamelin said he still enjoys good health, and runs every other day, which he's been doing for about 30 years.
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