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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


November 30, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Community member helps honor vet with flight to Washington

By BRUCE LOWITT Jewish Press

Veteran Lee Vannes, right, points out to Scott Daniels, his “guardian” on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., the names of two Vietnam War casualities, twins Roy and Todd Jackson, (see inset). Although Vannes never knew the brothers, they hold a special meaning for him.Veteran Lee Vannes, right, points out to Scott Daniels, his “guardian” on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., the names of two Vietnam War casualities, twins Roy and Todd Jackson, (see inset). Although Vannes never knew the brothers, they hold a special meaning for him.
When Lee Vannes of Tampa got to the wall, he knew exactly who among the 58,318 names etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial he was looking for.

He was among the 73 veterans of Vietnam, World War II and the Korean War, guests of the Honor Flight of West Central Florida, each one accompanied by a volunteer guardian on a round-trip from St. Pete-Clearwater Airport to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

The engraved names were Todd and Roy Jackson. Not just brothers. Twins.

“It was tough even just going to the wall,” said Vannes, 80, who joined the Army at 17, served until he was 54, including three tours in Vietnam, and retired as a colonel.

Between two of the tours, he said, “I was in ROTC duty at Ripon College in Wisconsin. I was what’s called a Survivor Assistance Officer. You’re the one that goes to the house in uniform and notifies (the family) of the death. Then you attend the funeral, present the flag to them, arrange for a bugle to play Taps …

“Six months later the second twin gets killed. They were only 20. Talk about emotional. The family sees you coming to the door dressed in your best uniform and there’s no other reason to pay a call on them.”

* * *

Honor Flight West Central Florida, encompassing 11 counties in and around the Tampa Bay area, is one of 140 such chapters. The chartered flight, the chapter’s 36th to the nation’s capital, left well before dawn on Oct. 30 and returned that night.

Scott Daniels of Clearwater was Vannes’ “guardian.” The guardians pay for both their flights and the veterans’. Another dozen Honor Flight staff accompany them to keep things running ( smoothly.

L-R) Honor Flight “guardian” Scott Daniels with Vietnam veteran Lee Vannes, who spent 37 years in the Army. L-R) Honor Flight “guardian” Scott Daniels with Vietnam veteran Lee Vannes, who spent 37 years in the Army. This is not the first time Daniels has served as a volunteer. He learned of the Honor Flight program through membership on the Caldwell Banker CARES Foundation board and first volunteered as an Honor Flight guardian in 2015. He and his wife Marcy are longtime members of Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater and volunteer at the Florida Holocaust Museum, among an extensive list of Jewish and civic involvement.

“For the longest time people didn’t recognize our veterans for a variety of reasons,” Daniels said. “Now, with social media, people are understanding that these are our fathers and mothers and grandparents and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts, that they’re not just a page in a history book. This is real life.

“When you have American heroes who have fought for our country and defended our country, that’s appreciated but it has to be acknowledged. Honor Flights is one of those ways.”

Calling the trip, an “eye opener,” Vannes said, “It was so well orchestrated. When we got off the plane (at BWI Airport in Baltimore) there were three buses waiting for us. During rush hour we had motorcycle cops, state troopers and park police escorting us. We were expedited wherever we went. They just parted the sea.”

Having worked in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s as a plans operations guy for the Army, he got to see some of the war memorials, “but you don’t get much free time working in the Pentagon. I’d seen the Marine Corps War Memorial (raising the flag on Iwo Jima) and I’d been to Arlington National Cemetery a few times.”

But he had never seen the Air Force Memorial that opened in 2006 – three 270-foot stainless steel spires representing the contrails of the Thunderbirds. “Magnificent,” he said.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall was opened in 1995, after he’d finished his Pentagon tour – 19 stainless steel statues representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines wearing ponchos and appearing to slog through a rice paddy adjacent to a black granite mural wall.

“The statues are life size,” Vannes said, “and they’re white, each of them carrying a different weapon. It’s so authentic. But you see the statues and then the reflections. That was one of the highlights of the trip.”

* * *

Vannes grew up in Manitowoc, WI, on Lake Michigan, 81 miles due north of Milwaukee. “Manitowoc sold me on the military,” he said. “My dad was a sheet-metal worker helping to build submarines. That›s where they built them for World War II. My parents had to sign for me when I joined the Army.”

“I had a busy career. I had three tours with the 82nd Airborne – 238 parachute jumps. … I was Airborne, Rangers, Special Forces. On the Cambodian border we were conducting special operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, road graders to clear the jungle.

“The Air Force was supposed to spray dioxin (Agent Orange) out in front, a football field ahead of us, then we were supposed to wait 24 hours, then push the jungle canopy down. Instead they’d come right over us. I spent a week with them, got sprayed at least three times.”

Lee and Norma Vannes have known each other for 15 years, have been married for 11. They don’t doubt that Agent Orange has taken its toll on him.

“I did’t have an Army life,” Norma said, “but there are times when I can see him get upset for no reason, and he’s shaking with Parkinson’s. … He doesn’t like to talk about it.”

Lee shrugged. “You can’t hide it all the time.”

She is Jewish, he is Catholic. They belong to both Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor and Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor.

“We are dedicated to both of our religions,” Norma said. “That’s the only way our marriage will work because neither of us was going to give up our religion.

* * *

His career included four years in Europe during which, as part of a task force, he worked with a special operations unit of the Italian police that rescued American Brigadier Gen. James Lee Dozier, kidnapped on Dec. 17, 1981, and held for 42 days by the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist organization.

In 1964, when he was a first lieutenant at Bien Hua Air Base, about 20 miles northeast of Saigon, the North Vietnamese “dumped 82 rounds of 81-millimeter ammunition on us, launched from three rocket sites. One of my communications buildings got blown up, several kids got lacerations. Lots of purple hearts were given out that night.

“I jumped in the driver’s seat of a two-and-a-half-ton truck and all the troops jumped in the back. .... The rockets were coming in from everywhere. … Our sharpshooters took out all the (attackers).

“The next morning Gen. (William) Westmoreland and Ambassador (Maxwell) Taylor flew out, shook our hands. It was significant because it was the first direct attack (on a U.S. base).”

Vannes’ final tour took him to Cambodia in 1969. By then he was a major.

“I had to be an escort for (Secretary of Defense Robert) McNamara and (Vice President Spiro) Agnew. That really pissed me off. I got more important things to do; we’re fightin’ a war and they come in with this chopper and gunships and I had to fly over the border into Cambodia ‘cause they wanted to go to see these famous ancient temples and rock formations, Unbelievable!”

* * *

“The [Honor Flight group’s] welcome home brought tears to my eyes,” Vannes said. “When we got off the plane we had no idea that here in Clearwater there were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for us. We were worn out. It had been a long, long day, started at 2:30 in the morning and now it was 8:30 at night.”

For some of the Vietnam veterans the welcome was especially meaningful, Vannes said. When they had returned from active duty in the 1960s and ’70s they were met not with cheers and tears but angry war protestors.

“Those long corridors at the airport were totally lined with people,” Vannes said, “Cub Scouts, and bikers with their beards, and high school and college students in the ROTC, and women’s groups, elderly people, and everyone wanted to give you a hug and tell you, ‘Thank you for your service.’ ”

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