A Veterans Story That Hits Home
I want to share a story with you about one event I never could have imagined, at last week’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Lunch, a moment where lives came together in memory of two special men.
Henry “Tiger Hank” Allen and Richard “Dick” Elzinga
This has to do with Capt. Henry Allen, an Air Force pilot who went missing in action on March 26, 1970, during the Vietnam War. Sometime later that year, this would be the name on the POW/MIA bracelet arriving at my home in Morris, Illinois. I was a 6th grader, and many of us purchased these bracelets to support the thousands of U.S. soldiers who were either prisoners of war or missing in action in Vietnam.
Every Sunday, the Chicago Tribune would publish long lists of names identifying those who had been found and those who were homebound. But I could never find Henry’s name. There were times when I thought that somehow it had been spelled wrong. I looked everywhere.
Little did I realize Henry’s parents were also waiting for news about their son. It would be decades later when they, and even I, would find out the real truth of what happened to him.
Capt. Henry Allen was flying dangerous and highly secretive missions over Laos, under the Steve Cannon program known as the Ravens. These were highly skilled and courageous pilots who dared to conduct the risky flights.
On March 26, 1970, Henry “Tiger Hank” Allen made a fateful mission with co-pilot Richard “Dick” Elzinga. Neither men were ever seen again.
Fast-forward to September 2016 … as a candidate being misrepresented in my role as peace activist, I shared with voters my POW bracelet story on a campaign mailer. A few days later, I received an email from Wendy Carsel of Cayucos telling me she saw my mailer and couldn’t believe it, because she had been a friend of Richard Elzinga.
I said, “Elzinga? That’s the man who was flying with Tiger Hank!” Mrs. Carsel shared the news that Dick Elzinga had been childhood friends with her first husband, and he had even been in their wedding.
Most memorable for Wendy, however, was Dick’s parents, who were her neighbors and “like family” to her when she lived in Oregon. Dick Elzinga was their only child, and his death was a tremendous loss to them and to Wendy.
Sadly, the families of Henry Allen and Richard Elzinga were left without closure for many decades, if at all. Now, they are gone and neither man ever had the chance to have their own families.
So last week, Wendy and I took the opportunity to bring the memory of Dick Elzinga and Tiger Hank Allen together again at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Luncheon. So many years and miles have gone by, but together they are held in our arms and in our hearts forever.
And this is why, as a candidate, I know that decisions made by politicians impact people’s lives.