Prattan Ken Gawith, a Navy veteran, recently took part in an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. with other veterans as thanks for their years of service. Gawith is Vietnam Veteran.
Getting off the plane in 2017 was nothing like getting off the plane in 1967 for Ken Gawith.
Gawith, who served in the Navy starting in 1963, had four years of active duty including a year in Vietnam from mid 1966 to mid 1967.
Gawith recently took an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. where he and the other veterans were greeted by cheering crowds with flags and welcome posters. It was nothing like when he got home from Vietnam and was met by his wife June and his parents and that was all.
Gawith lived in Delphos and was just 19 when he joined the Navy. Two of his brothers were in the Navy and he had always liked the water even though he lived in land locked Kansas. He even bought his own boat when he was a junior in high school.
By coincidence, Gawith joined the Navy the same day President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. He was engaged to June and they had been friends since the met in the third grade.
His first duty was boat coxswain and he operated the admiral's barge and the captain's gig. He was stationed on the USS Sierra, a destroyer tender and the flagship in Norfolk, Va.
He then transferred to Key West where he served on the U.S.S. Destroyer Saufley where he was part of the deck force taking care of the ship including the lifeboats, the anchors, standing watch and other duties.
At one point, he was at sea for 29 days without seeing land. He understood what it was like for submariners and appreciated getting to go ashore more than before joining the Navy.
He was in the Navy almost three years before he received orders for Vietnam. He married June on June 26, 1966 and a month later was in Vietnam where he served for a year from July 1966 to July 1967.
He was stationed at Qui Nhon. He spent a month at Cam Ranh Bay when he was sick. The sailor that took his place at Qui Nhon was killed when a hand grenade was thrown onto the boat. His name was David, Gawith said.
"It was 55 years ago but it seems like yesterday," Gawith said.
During his time in Vietnam, he was with Delta Force and in charge of a Landing Craft Personnel (Large) or LCP(L). The boat is 40 feet long and made of a plastic compound but it could move fast when necessary.
His duty was to patrol and check boats in the outer harbor to make sure the Vietnamese were not setting charges on the boats. There were five LCP(L) on patrol.
Only once during this time did he see combat. His crew was called to assist in a mission that required his crew to fire their 50 caliber guns at a beach. That was the extent of their combat at Qui Nhon.
Most of his days were filled with just riding the boat. They were 24 hours on and 24 hours off.
He was honorably discharged having reached the rank of Third Class Petty Officer.
During his time in Vietnam, Gawith said he grew a lot as a person. He saw many people that had nothing but the clothes on their backs and lived in cardboard huts. They had no bathrooms and no running water. The children had to be scavengers. They were filthy and had to go through garbage to find food.
"I realized how fortunate we were to live in the U.S.," Gawith said. "I just realized how much we had."
When his daughters complained about not having things, he told them they should be glad for what they had.
When he arrived home from Vietnam, besides no cheering crowds to meet them, they received no debriefing to determine if they needed help dealing with their experienced in Vietnam or adjusting to civilian life again.
Gawith admitted he could have used some help. He said he didn't treat June as good as he should have.
"I didn't care about anybody but Kenny," Gawith said. "I'm sure I didn't treat her very nice when I came back."
They had no "deprogramming" and he wished they would have had some help.
"We didn't have any debriefing to help us adapt to home," Gawith said.
But Gawith had good family support and his religion that helped him adjust to civilian life. Others didn't have religion or family support and had a rougher time adjusting.
Gawith spent just two more months in the Navy after Vietnam.
Even with his experience in Vietnam, he said he would do it again.
"It's an experience I would never give up," Gawith said. "I would serve again."
Gawith said he thinks every young man and woman should spend two years in military service to learn discipline and respect.
When Gawith took his trip to Washington with Honor Flight June 15, 16 and 17, he was overwhelmed by the reception he and the other veterans received when they arrived in Washington and again when they returned to Kansas City. There were members of motorcycle clubs there and they made him feel good.
"It was awesome," Gawith said.
He also got some special treatment on the trip. His niece Cyndi Atwell was a guardian coordinator for the trip.
The Honor Flight program takes veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the monuments and to provide them a special welcome to honor their service to the country.
Gawith said he was impressed the Cloud County Community College made their bus available to transport veterans to the airport via Salina, Junction City and Topeka. In Topeka, the group was greeted by Gov. Sam Brownback and they took a tour of the capital building.
Gawith was part of 37 veterans plus 17 guardians that made the trip possible. The group visited the World War II memorial, the Korean, Vietnam, Lincoln and Marine Memorials as well. At Arlington they watched the changing of the guard and a special wreath ceremony. They also visited the Navy and Air Force Memorial and got to hear the Air Force Band and the Singing Sergeants. A Capital tour was also included and that was the highlight of the tour for Gawith.