By MARINA WATERS
If you were to ask Carroll ReMine what he believes in, he’d be quick to tell you he believes in honoring our nation’s flag and protecting our freedoms. But he also believes in sharing some of his memories from the Vietnam War, as he did with his granddaughter’s class at West View Elementary School.
ReMine was recently in Washington D.C. with the Honor Flight, which is an organization that takes veterans to visit war memorials in our nation’s capital. On that trip, he was surprised to receive numerous letters from across the county — and many from his granddaughter, Emma Moore, and some of her classmates.
“We were coming back on the bus and the coordinator said, ‘We’re going to have mail call.’ She stood up in front of the bus and they handed every veteran a bag. Mine had 64 letters in it including these from Emma’s class. I started reading them and they just touched me. My friend sitting across the isle said, ‘You want me to get a Kleenex?’,” ReMine said with a laugh. “Those letters, they get to you.”
The letters, filled with drawings of helicopters, American flags and wishes of a happy homecoming from the trip, prompted ReMine to visit his granddaughter’s class where he shared some of his war experiences.
He also shared his Honor Flight experience with the class. For the Washington County native, the Vietnam War Memorial’s black marble offered bittersweet emotions along with the names of a few old friends etched in the stone.
“This was my first time at the Vietnam Memorial,” ReMine said. “I looked up some friends that had lost their life there and traced it over with a pencil. That meant a lot for me. Two were from Limestone and one was from Erwin.
“I sum it up like this: there was a lot of tears and a lot of cheers (on the trip). In one sense it’s real reverent like a funeral and it gives some closure.”
ReMine was drafted in 1967 and, after basic training in Fort Benning and helicopter school in Alabama, he was part of the fourth division of the U.S. Army’s aviation unit.
Though it had been decades since ReMine returned from war, he recently had a homecoming crowd waiting on him at Central Church of Christ following the Honor Flight trip — which was more of a welcome than most Vietnam vets received among the political controversy that sparked demonstrators and a sometimes unkind homecoming in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“I had to fly through O’Hare (International Airport in Chicago) and the protestors there demonstrating, spitting. I know this one guy on our flight, he had some civilian clothes tucked away somewhere. He got into the restroom and took his Army outfit off and put his civilian clothes on.”
After finally arriving at the Tri-Cities airport and getting a ride from a friend, ReMine got home and surprised his folks, who thought it’d be a few more days before he would be back in Tennessee. But the homecoming from the Honor Flight made up for no one waiting for him at the airport, ReMine said.
“I wanted to surprise them, so there wasn’t nobody at the airport (when he arrived from war). My dad was at the neighbor’s house sitting there. I walked up the walk, the lady came to the door and she just couldn’t believe it. Dad came down through there and said, ‘My boy’s home.’ That was a good welcome home, but this thing getting back from the Honor Flight made a big difference. This the other day at the homecoming at the church, that covered that over.”
Among his wartime experiences, ReMine recalls when Bob Hope and Racquel Welch performed for the troops at the base of Dragon Mountain and when he met a soldier who had a “dope”, (also known as a Pepsi) and a Moonpie on his mind, which reminded the young Washington County soldier of home.
But talking about other experiences from the war isn’t quite as easy. ReMine said he didn’t talk about some of his memories from Vietnam for years, but has spoken more about it recently.
“I did not speak about my experiences in Vietnam until recent years when I went for counseling at the (veteran) center in Johnson City and enrolled in some programs at the VA, which I’m still active and involved in. It’s a great program. It helped me a bunch. Our group, we just talk it out among ourselves. What goes on there stays there.”
ReMine has spoken at West View and was asked to share his Honor Flight experience with other school groups as well. But he also makes a point to share his belief in remembering that freedom is a privilege that is often under appreciated.
“Always remember that freedom is not free,” ReMine said. “You see all those soldiers that lost their life and at the other cemeteries. Why? Because of our freedom so we can go to McDonald’s, we get in the truck and go where we want to and go to school.
“I encouraged (the West View class) to tell their folks to get out and vote. We may not like things and the way they turn out, but that’s your freedom. That’s one of the freedoms.”