Two western Wayne County veterans whose daughters were classmates didn’t realize they were both traveling on the 39th Indy Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. until the day before their journey.
That was the first surprise of many on the action-packed trip Larry Gumm and Jerry Doddridge took Saturday, May 20.
Their sightseeing experience in the nation’s capital was memorable, but perhaps just as moving to both was being individually introduced and cheered during a program at Plainfield High School’s gym afterward.
“It was the welcome home we didn’t get,” Gumm said.
The veterans’ loved ones — as well a large crowd of patriotic Hoosiers of all ages — gathered to wave flags and provide love and respect.
“It was almost too much,” Gumm said about the crowd. “It definitely brought a tear.”
Day at a glance
After a welcome dinner on Friday night, 86 veterans and their guardians gathered Saturday at Plainfield High School for an early morning flight on a decorated plane. Gumm and Doddridge received a stack of cards and letters from friends and family that thanked them for their service and shared what the veterans mean to the writers. The well-wishes continued throughout the day from strangers appreciating the delegation’s military service.
“It was an amazing experience – nothing like I’ve ever witnessed,” Doddridge said. “I’ve never shook so many people’s hands … We were treated like kings.”
Gumm said he loved what he calls an “awesome and informative” trip during the “jam-packed day.”
In a few hours, their four tour buses encountered various memorials including World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Vietnam Women’s, Marine Corps, Lincoln and Washington. Gumm said getting close to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again for the first time since 1991 brought forth lots of emotions.
They also toured Arlington National Cemetery, where Gumm appreciated the opportunity to watch the changing of the guard and see its approximately 400,000 grave markers.
The delegation returned to Indiana about 12 hours later, enjoying the assembly at Plainfield’s gym packed with veterans’ families, enthusiastic volunteers and interested area residents.
Doddridge was stunned to see schoolchildren, teens and 20-somethings eagerly greet the veterans both in Plainfield and in the nation’s capital, and said they defied stereotypes about today’s youth.
“They couldn’t wait to get up and shake your hand,” Doddridge said. “It was so big and so beautiful. It was hard to explain. What an experience.”
However, the evening wasn’t over yet for the duo.
They received a Cambridge City Police Department escort through the county’s west side, hearing cheers and seeing neighbors holding signs for them when they arrived about 10:30 p.m. in Cambridge City. Rob and Susan Moistner hosted a late-night gathering on U.S. 40 to greet the veterans.
Lucinda (Gumm) Alexander of Hagerstown served as her dad’s guardian on the trip and pushed his wheelchair for sightseeing.
She remembers him somewhat jokingly asking, “Is this day ever going to end?” after seeing the U.S. 40 festivities and then an elaborate sign in his Pershing yard saying “Thank you Papaw.”
Alexander said Gumm is not one to seek attention, so the day was definitely a different experience for him.
Doddridge had a similar reaction about the reception they received throughout the trip, calling it “an amazing experience.”
“I couldn’t thank all these people enough. It was wonderful what they did for us,” Doddridge said.
About their service
Doddridge, who served in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry in Vietnam in 1969-70, received several nudges to go on an Honor Flight from his wife and others before registering.
After spending 14 months overseas, Doddridge felt Vietnam veterans received a chilly reception upon returning home, such as being called “baby killers.”
They tried to have their buddies’ backs so they’d all make it home safely, Doddridge said. However, he remembers the more than 58,000 soldiers who did not survive the war.
He said he’s remained quiet about his experiences and hasn’t talked about them much with his family. “We were called upon, we went, and we did our job,” Doddridge said. “I left Vietnam 53 years ago and it wasn’t a big deal anymore.”
After his military service, Doddridge spent 30 years working at Dana Corp. and added part-time work as a salesman for a roofing company for some of those years. He recently retired after 35 years in roofing.
Doddridge also has enjoyed raising two children an becoming a grandparent to four and now a great-grandparent. It’s been a memorable year for their family with a grandson being part of Hagerstown Little League’s journey to its World Series and now Doddridge’s honor flight, he said.
Gumm was in the Air Force about six months before serving in Vietnam from 1970-72 and leaving the military in 1974. He worked a few jobs afterward, such as building blowers for Roots Dresser, before retiring with 100 percent disability from the Veterans Administration.
In addition to his Honor Flight, Gumm plans to mark another memorable occasion soon. He and wife Jeanne will celebrate their 50th anniversary in June, and will be congratulated by their three children and nine grandchildren.
Although it was a whirlwind trip, Gumm’s trip to D.C. was five to six years in the making.
Alexander, who owns Dance Dynamics in Dublin, had submitted paperwork requesting an Honor Flight for her dad several years ago, but interest was high among World War II and Korea veterans for the earliest trips, and some of them are still participating. COVID health concerns also led to the program’s pause.
She said she easily prepared the front-and-back form that just needed Gumm’s signature and gave it to him as a Christmas present, and then they waited for his turn.
She complimented the “utmost care” given to monitor veterans’ health and safety during the trip, and noted four medics were on board and ready to assist if needed.
Gumm said he would “most definitely recommend” the trip to other veterans.
A version of this article appeared in the May 31 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.