Three brothers, Vietnam veterans prepare for trip of a lifetime: ‘A very short, but very heartfelt thank you’

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GREENWOOD, Ind. – Three local brothers are about to embark on a trip of a lifetime: Indy Honor Flight.

The Sowder brothers have a lot more in common than just being related. Because of their special connection, they’re being honored this weekend as Hoosier heroes.

A lot has changed in 50 years for the Sowder brothers.

“We’re afraid we’d outgrow our uniforms, so we had to do it quick,” Joe Sowder explained while holding an old photograph, “I was 21.”

David Sowder said, “I guess I was 24.”

One thing that’s stayed the same is their brotherly connection, humor and love.

“And we still looked pretty good back then,” the three brothers joked.

James, David and Joe aren’t just brothers by blood. They’re brothers in arms; all three served in Vietnam.

“It was quite an experience and there’s some other things I wouldn’t want to talk about,” said Joe Sowder.

To this day, they still recount new memories from the long and divisive Vietnam war.

“I was signed up for three years and I spent 13 months overseas, that was typical. You sleep two, then stay awake two and hope nobody snuck up on you. I was kind of in the background. I stayed in the compound where the supplies were,” said David Sowder.

Though they are family, all three had very different experiences.

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“Working in surgery all of that time, the doctors come up one time and asked me and said 'Well, I’ve got a guy that’s going to lose his eye sight and he’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Can you go talk to him a little bit?' I was thinking, 'I don’t know why I was talking to somebody'. I wished I would have thought more about it and talked with him longer,” James explained.

Yet, through their stories, they have a special bond.

“I’ve been through a lot of rice paddies and climbing up trees and doing scrimmages with infantry driving,” said Joe Sowder.

For the Sowder brothers, their time in Vietnam was not only difficult because of their missions.

“It was just, we missed each other you know,” Joe added.

And now they hope a once in a lifetime trip this weekend will help fill those gaps.

“We used to, when our dad was alive in Florida, we’d go down there every year and spend a few days down there with our dad,” said Joe, “Then, he passed away and we haven’t done that, we just haven’t done anything.”

James, David and Joe were invited to go on the Indy Honor Flight. A one-day, free trip to Washington D.C. with 85 other veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  They’ll visit memorials and honoring their time in the service, the way they should have been honored years ago.

According to Indy Honor Flights website:

Indy Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor Indiana’s veterans for their service and sacrifice.  Top priority is given to the oldest veterans.  Our goal is to get the most senior veterans to visit the memorials built for them before it is too late.  We also give priority to terminally ill veterans.

“Even though we didn’t get too much acceptance back then,” said James.

Joe added, “We didn’t talk about it back then, because no one wanted to hear about it.”

“A lot of our Vietnam veteran guys were plainly mistreated, and we can’t correct that, but this is an opportunity for the community to show their support, to show their gratitude,” said Dennis Disney, a volunteer for Indy Honor Flight.

A trip that the Sowder brothers will cherish together.

“A very short, but very heartfelt thank you,” Disney added.

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