By Jeff Holt
Published April 22, 2022 in The Burg
Things like Facebook and mobile phones have changed the way of communicating in the modern era.
But for millions of military veterans, the term "mail call" still holds a special place in their hearts.
Just ask Galesburg's Don Tomlin who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964-68 during the Vietnam era. He was stationed in Thailand and his job was a Special Purpose Repair Person. Recently, Tomlin went on the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities on April 12 and - on the way home to the Moline Airport - the term "mail call" came full circle. He received close to 15 to 20 heartfelt cards from loved ones.
"That was amazing," said Tomlin. "One time when I was overseas some school had their teachers send letters. They didn't know who they were writing to. They just wrote letters. Dear so and so, soldier, and we had a bunch of them. They handed them out at mail call (on the way back to Moline recently) and that's what I thought it was going to be. Then, I started looking at them (the cards) and I said I know these people. One of my sisters spread the word and I got a whole pile of them. It was pretty cool. Somebody went to a lot of work to get that done.
"So much for the nap on the way home."
Joining Tomlin on the Quad City Honor Flight was U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jeff Milroy, a 1989 graduate of Galesburg High School. Milroy served as a medic for everyone in his group on the Honor Flight, with a backpack on like he was going on an 18-mile hike.
"Jeff was great," said Tomlin. "I had a licensed EMT and an ex-Marine taking care of me."
Added Milory, "It was a long day with 10,000 steps and he (Tomlin) didn't want to take a break. I backed off (at times) and let him have his moments. There was some stuff he kept to himself. I would highly recommend anyone to sign up for it. It is more than you expect."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC was another site that really hit home for the 77-year-old Tomlin.
He took some time to reflect on it all.
"You feel a little guilty with all the people who didn't make it back," he said. "I'm grateful, but I feel sorry for the guys whose names are up there. We've learned more and more about that war and what went on, and you begin to wonder if it was all a waste. You still have to remember the people who went over there and did the job."
Tomlin, as Vietnam vet, quickly saw an item at the Vietnam Memorial called a Zippo Lighter and that quickly rang a bell with him.
"The Vietnam Wall is pretty impressive," said Tomlin. "I know people have been leaving stuff there for a long time. For some reason, someone left a Zippo Lighter there. Everyone had one of those before (during Vietnam) and smoked - a simple thing like that. They'd open and close it. Something to do."
Some of you might know Tomlin from his 40-plus years of going to the YMCA in Galesburg and in Monmouth. Others know him as a 1962 graduate of Monmouth High School. He received his bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University and his masters from Southern Illinois University.
But for Tomlin, his first-ever trip on the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities is one that he'll never forget.
He concluded by saying: "It was pretty amazing with all the people who showed up. This was the 52nd trip out of the Quad Cities and those people still get sincerely appreciative about it. It was a good trip. I'm going to put my name in again and see if they want me to take somebody."
Did you know? Tomlin said that this past QC Honor Flight was sponsored by some Galva residents who run the Backroads Musical Festival, which saw them raise $80,000 in five years.
Other notes: Also going to the Quad City Honor Flight for her second time was Galesburg native Angie (O'Connor) Miles. She previously went in 2018, and then she just took two veterans this past time.
"I love everything about it," she said. "It is such a privilege to take them. I can't pick out any one thing. It is just a good day overall. It's a long day, but it is so moving. I'll probably sign up to do it again."