A flight to remember

Jerry Tastad

A Vietnam War veteran with a lengthy military career recently participated in a Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, traveling to Washington, D.C. with family to be recognized for his service.

Though he currently lives in Columbia, Jerry Tastad grew up in Rolette, North Dakota, and he took a rather long journey before ultimately winding up here in Monroe County.

As Tastad recalled, he attended North Dakota State University, quickly joining the reserve officer training corps in an effort to pursue his dream of flying.

“I was a farm boy,” Tastad said. “Came right off the farm up there. It was a pretty standard farm boy life. Went to college specifically because I wanted to fly. I figured that was the only way I could afford to.”

He joined the Army as a field artillery officer, signing up indefinitely.

Tastad volunteered for flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in July 1965, going through the fixed-wing course in which he flew Cessna planes and other similar aircraft.

Following this training, Tastad was sent to Vietnam, where he served for a year.

As an Army pilot, he spent much of his time at the border with North Vietnam, supporting Marines in an observational plane.

Tastad earned a Bronze Star and 17 air medals for his service before returning home.

Following his Vietnam service, Tastad moved around the country and internationally quite a bit.

He was sent to Germany for 18 months before returning to Rucker to receive training as a helicopter pilot. He further received training in multi-engineer craft to do work with the Army security agency.

Tastad was then sent again to Vietnam – though a chance opening elsewhere helped him avoid experiencing combat there a second time.

“Just before I left to go back to Vietnam, an opening occurred in Turkey, and they wanted to know if I would be willing to give up the opportunity to go back to Vietnam and go to Turkey instead to command the unit at a place called Sinop, Turkey,” Tastad said. “And I said ‘Yeah, I’d be very happy to do that.’ Didn’t really feel I wanted to stick my head in the noose again.”

Tastad subsequently traveled to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for additional battery training, then commanding an artillery battery for two years.

Around this time, as he recalled, the Volunteer Army began, and he was among the first commissioned officers sent out to command recruiting stations.

He was sent back to North Dakota for this service before moving to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he commanded an aviation company for a year and a half.

Tastad then jumped to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, before being stationed at the Pentagon in D.C. among the general staff in the G-1 office.

Orders then sent him back to Rucker, where he commanded a unit traveling around the world inspecting aviation units.

From there, with 21 years in the service, he retired, moving to the St. Louis area.

Tastad participated in the first Land of Lincoln Honor Flight of the year on May 14.

The Honor Flight program provides veterans with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., going on a sight-seeing tour while being recognized for their military service.

As Tastad described, he heard about the program and ultimately attended thanks to his daughter-in-law.

“My daughter-in-law, Laura Tastad, had volunteered once before to be a guardian on the Honor Flight,” Jerry said. “She had talked to me about it, and I never really got too excited about it. As I got a little older, I thought I might as well take advantage of it.”

Per Jerry, Laura got things set up for him, and they and a few other family members went up to Springfield the night before the trip, getting treated to a nice dinner at the VFW before waking up to get on the flight at 4 a.m.

From there, the group – which consisted of 15 Korean War era veterans and 79 Vietnam War era veterans – visited a number of military memorials and other sites.

Jerry noted seeing the World War II Memorial – getting a nice visit from some family members who live in the area – as well as the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial.

“It was pretty much a whirlwind all day,” Jerry said.

While he said he’d seen each of these memorials save for World War II given his previous time in D.C., he was quite pleased to see the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, particularly recalling the plane which dropped the atomic bombs during World War II as well as a number of aircraft which he had experience flying.

“Because I was a pilot, that, needless to say, interested me tremendously,” Jerry said.

Another, more poignant highlight of the trip for Jerry was the visit to Arlington, where he and his fellows were able to watch the Changing of the Guard.

“I don’t care how many times you go to that, that’s very sobering but still a wonderful thing to see,” Jerry said.

Following a visit to the Air Force Memorial, Jerry and the other veterans were treated to a nice meal at the airport before their return flight to Springfield.

Like with many veterans who participate in an Honor Flight, Jerry spoke particularly fondly of the return flight.

He noted how each veteran’s name was called along with their history and awards.

“Mail call” followed, with each veteran receiving a packet filled with letters from friends, family and people they served with.

Continuing the warm welcome home, Jerry and his fellow veterans entered the airport only to be greeted by countless individuals lining the corridor they were walking down, with people of all ages recognizing them for their service.

Jerry noted how his son spoke with a handful of these people and reported back that they lived in the area and liked to attend these Honor Flight returns for every trip.

While Jerry said he personally didn’t encounter much negativity on his return from Vietnam, there were plenty of veterans on the trip who had worse experiences coming home from their tours.

“There was a number of people during the day that indicated that they were not welcomed home when they came back from Vietnam, so the ending of the day really stuck with them probably more than anything,” Jerry said.

Jerry generally spoke fondly of his experience on the Honor Flight, voicing his appreciation for the thought and care that seemed to go into the trip – particularly in regard to the accompanying guardians who assisted the veterans throughout the day.

Laura, who served as her father-in-law’s guardian, also spoke about her experience on the trip.

Having volunteered as a guardian previously, she emphasized how Land of Lincoln Honor Flight ensures that the trip comes at no cost or hassle to the veterans.

She also spoke about the overall purpose and primary benefit of the honor flight program, as it allows folks to express appreciation for those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It’s an opportunity for we as citizens to recognize and acknowledge their service to our country in way that many of them didn’t experience, particularly our Vietnam veterans but other eras as well,” Laura said. “They didn’t necessarily have a warm welcome when they returned from their service.”

For more information on Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, call 217-652-4719 or email jmb4604@aol.com.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web