ST. GEORGE — On a brisk St. George morning, veterans representing every branch of the military gathered to remember their fallen comrades and honor those who served their country during this year’s Veterans Day celebration.
Members from the American Legion Post 142, the Marine Corps League Detachment 1270, Vietnam Veterans of America 961, the Knights of Columbus, the Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Utah and the Daughters of the American Revolution were joined by hundreds of local residents at SunRiver Veterans Honor Park.
This year’s guest speaker was the United States Air Force Lt. Col. Clarence Herrington.
With a military career that spanned more than 24 years, Veterans Day holds a special meaning to Herrington.
“It’s a day that you honor men and women who are willing to fight for their country,” Herrington said. “We honor those who appreciate American ideals.”
While all veterans deserve honor, Herrington said, it is the younger vets who served in Afganistan and Iraq that need focused attention. Many veterans’ organizations say it is this military community that have been overlooked when they came home.
“Everyone who fights should not be forgotten,” Herrington added.
With a military resume longer than his 30-minute speech, Herrington reflected on his career and his service during the Vietnam War.
After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1969, Herrington attended pilot training before being assigned to a C-7 Caribou Squadron at Cam Rahn Bay, South Vietnam flying combat assault airlift support.
After one year, Herrington had his gunsights set on flying a much bigger jet.
With a max takeoff weight of 488,000 pounds, Herrington was soon flying B-52 Stratofortress out of Guam to conduct bombing raids on North Vietnam.
Herrington was in the Vietnam theater from 1971 to 1974.
In an interview prior to Veterans Day, Herrington reflected on the meaning of the day and on his service which included flying over enemy territory during Operation Lineback that saw several Stratofortress showdown by Russian made SA-2 surface-to-air missiles.
“These missiles were designed specifically in the Soviet Union to shoot down what I was flying,” Herrington said. “It is the tooth of the dragon. It was a 24-hour operation. You would take off, bomb, go back to Guam and get some sleep and eat, and do that day after day after day.”
When Herrington did have the occasion downtime he unwound at the officers club, but even there it was bittersweet, soon noticing friends from other B-52 Stratofortress bombers absent being shot down over north Vietnam.
“One of my roommates at the Air Force Academy was shot down and became a prisoner of war for more than seven years,” Herrington said. “To keep your focus it is all about the mission. If you acknowledged the loss of friends you acknowledged it could happen to you.”
Instead of dwelling on your mortality and vulnerability you threw yourself into your job, Merrington added.
Operation Linebacker was the codename of a U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 air interdiction bombing campaign conducted against North Vietnam from May 9 to Oct. 23, 1972.
“It was serious business,” Herrington said. “But, at the same time, you had to keep a sense of humor.”
For Herrington, life in A B-52 was much like the television show M.A.S.H.
“Although they were laughing and joking in the surgical room they were not dishonoring the soldiers they were operating on,” Herrington said. “They were trying to keep their minds in the right mood so that they could do their job. This is what you did as a B-52 crew. You did what you had to do so that you could do the job.”
After Herrington retired from the military he went to seminary and became a United Methodist minister.
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