He couldn’t get a wink of sleep, and not because they gave him an uncomfortable room. It’s just that Bruce Lamps of Peru was so excited to fly to Washington his pulse precluded getting any shut-eye.
“You just really get excited about it,” the Army Reserves veteran said of joining the Oct. 29 honor flight, the last one scheduled in 2019. “I was just totally pumped. I thought for sure I’d be sleeping on the bus or the plane, but you just have energy.”
The energy came in handy because Lamps, 74, and daughter Kim McKee did a lot of walking when they got to the National Mall along with 93 other veterans from the Land of Lincoln. McKee clocked their steps at a whopping 7 miles but Lamps barely noticed the physical exertion. The strides and the hours seemed to just slip by as he was feted with a free tour of the nation’s capital.
“If you went to Washington, D.C. on vacation, you’d need a week to see everything that we saw in a day,” Lamps said. “And they didn’t push us. There was a time schedule, but they didn’t rush us.”
Lamps was able to join Land of Lincoln Honor Flight because he had served in the U.S. Army Reserves during the Vietnam Era, enlisting in the years after graduating from La Salle-Peru Township High School with the class of 1963.
His unit, however, narrowly avoided combat duty in Southeast Asia. Lamps had drawn a stateside assignment from 1967-71 and happened to be stationed in New Jersey when he and his comrades were alerted that they were ticketed for Nam.
“They told us when we were in Fort Dix that our unit would be going,” the Peru native recalled, “but knock on wood we didn’t get called.”
After completing his service with Uncle Sam, Lamps returned to Peru and to his wife, the formerly Beverly Greener, with whom he raised daughter Kim and later welcomed two grandchildren. Lamps worked 31 years as a terminal manager and sales representative for Consolidated Freightways and then R.H. Boelk in Mendota. He retired four years ago.
It was McKee who arranged for Lamps to take an Honor Flight. She had always held her father in high regard and thought this an appropriate way to recognize his service. The experience, however, far exceeded her expectations.
“My dad will always be my hero, but after seeing him and so many other veterans that day, I was overwhelmed with emotions of appreciation, true respect and gratitude for their service,” McKee said. “It was an honor to be his guardian for the day. We shared so many laughs, hugs and tears.”
Lamps acknowledged the tour of the monuments was profoundly moving, none more so than the Vietnam Memorial, the size of which caught him off guard.
“I had not been to Washington before, no,” Lamps said. “Words don’t really capture Honor Flight. There are a lot of things done behind the scenes to make that trip a success. They have everything just laid out. It was smooth.”
And while the day was long — they arrived at Springfield’s airport at 4:15 a.m. and returned well after dusk — the highlight of the trip arguably was the finale. Honor Flight arranged for a cheering crowd of volunteers to greet the plane as the veterans and their companions touched down and deplaned.
“There had to be 2,000 or 3,000 people at the airport waiting for us, shaking hands and hollering,” Lamps marveled. “A welcome committee second to none.”
McKee was equally impressed and urged other veterans’ families to sign up their loved ones when the program resumes in 2020. (For details, visit landoflincolnhonorflight.org.)
“I was amazed by the accommodations, respect, support and gratitude shown to all of the Veterans by the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight volunteers, guardians and everyone we meet during our day in D.C. We were able to experience so many memorials do to excellent scheduling and the police escort. My dad and I made memories to last our lifetime.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.