Honor Flight brings back memories for vet

When John Zick decided to apply for the Navy's Holloway Plan - similar to the ROTC - he had no way of knowing what his assignment would be after he finished his schooling.

Soon after making full lieutenant on July 1, 1968, Zick received his orders. He was going to Vietnam.

"The war was raging. This was a real hot area that I was going to. That I knew," he said.

He arrived in Saigon Dec. 21, a "total cultural change," he said.

"The night was lit up with fires and machine guns."

Four days later he reached the small base on the Cua Viet River to replace an advisor who had been injured.

"I was the best Christmas present he ever had," Zick said.

In addition to serving as an advisor, Zick was a conduit between the Navy and the 3rd Marine Division. The base was about three miles from the demilitarized zone.

"On occasion, the North Vietnamese would come across and shoot mortars or rockets at us," he said. "We had constant concerns about North Vietnamese or Viet Cong trying to attack our base. We'd go out at night and set up ambush sites."

Their primary mission was to protect the river for cargo boats.

"The river was the main logistical link to the 3rd Marines Division in Quang Tri," he said.

The Navy also worked to offer support to the Vietnamese living in the area.

"We'd set up kind of a medical gathering, and all these Vietnamese would come in with their kids and there would be long lines," he said. "Doctors would give them medicine."

With help from the Seabees, they also built a Catholic church (the area was 40 percent Catholic) and a school.

"Those are some of the positive things I would say that we did - the things you never hear about," he said.

He left Vietnam on Dec. 15, 1969, having earned a Bronze Star with a Combat V. He returned home 40 pounds lighter, married Anne (whom he known since the summer before high school), had two sons and worked as an international grain trader.

In 2019, while visiting the traveling Vietnam memorial at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, he signed up to take an Honor Flight. He finally made the trip to Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, accompanied by his younger son, Michael.

The trip included stops at the Iwo Jima memorial, the World War II Monument, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There he took rubbings of the names of a hometown friend killed in a helicopter crash and a high school classmate of Anne's who was killed in an ambush.

"It's emotional," he said of being at the memorial.

The long day ended with a flight home from Dulles back to Midway. And mail call.

"That was probably the best thing. Everybody got a bag," Zick said, showing off an envelope stuffed with dozens of letters. "Anne did a great job of notifying family and friends."

He returned to Midway to find a huge crowd - including Anne and his older son, John - waiting to greet them.

"It's quite a nice welcome home," he said.

He is still amazed at the course his life took.

"I could have never guessed I would end up doing this. Never."

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean