Suring veteran recognized with Old Glory Honor Flight

A chance to say thank you
Anna Olson

SURING — Friends and family say Joe Trever didn’t talk much about his service during the Vietnam War, but that has changed since he experienced Northeast Wisconsin’s Old Glory Honor Flight on Oct. 23, as a thank you for his service.

The Old Glory Honor Flight organization offers a whirlwind one-day guided tour of Washington, D.C., to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam War. The trip includes a number of surprises including a huge welcome-home celebration at the airport when they land back in Wisconsin.

Trever was nominated for the Honor Flight two years ago by his neighbor, Leslie Fisher, who has lived across the street from Joe and his wife, Sandy, since 2012.

“Joe is known in the community as a wonderful, kindhearted man who can fix anything,” Fisher said. She also describes him as humble and patriotic. “His flags are out and his hand is on his heart” every Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

Fisher said soldiers of the Vietnam era were often mistreated by opponents of the war.

“When these men came home from Vietnam, they were shunned and spat upon,” she said. Fisher, whose own father also served in the Vietnam war, nominated both Trever and her father because “they deserve the recognition, the praise, and the glory from the Old Glory Flight.”

Trever was born in a farmhouse in Suring and is a 1960 graduate of Oconto Falls High School. He married Sandy in March 1967.

“We got married on a Wednesday, and he left for Vietnam on Friday,” Sandy Trever said.

Trever trained as a mechanic, but the war had other plans.

“I did everything. I was supposed to be a mechanic, but you trade your mechanic for guns,” he said.

Trever ended his service in the Army with the rank of Spec 5 and received the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism.

After two years in service, his tour of duty ended and the couple lived in Fort Knox for six months, moved to Green Bay in 1969, and returned home to Suring in 1984. The couple’s current home is just across the road from where Trever was born.

Trever worked in the foundry industry, serving in positions from molder and core maker to plant superintendent. He spent 19 years of his career at Bay Engineered Castings (BEC) and then remained at De Pere Foundry Inc. until his retirement.

When it came to the Old Glory Honor Flight, Trever said he would never have nominated himself. His experience coming home from war was not as traumatic as some.

“I don’t know how many people were told to get rid of your uniform as quick as you can,” he said. “I never did and I wasn’t treated badly by any of the people up in this area, but a lot of them were. And I think we all deserved a lot better than that.”

Still, he was reluctant to share.

“He never talked about it. He would tell me when I asked a question, but out of the blue, it would never happen,” Sandy said.

When one of the Trever’s niece’s school-aged children was asked to bring a veteran to class, she didn’t know that there was a veteran in the family, let alone that Trever was ever in service.

“They didn’t know that he was in service because he never talked about it,” Sandy Trever said.

Then the morning of the Old Glory Honor Flight came, bright and early: The day began at 4 a.m. Trever and his guardian for the trip, Mark Szczepanski, made their way to the Appleton airport for the flight to Washington.

Upon arrival the planeload of veterans was greeted by over 200 people, adults and children, waving flags.

The day of Trever’s tour, there were four buses to excort the veterans and their guardians escorted throughout Washington, D.C. The tour made stops at memorials such as the Iwa Jima Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

At almost every stop, there would be a class of students waving flags to greet them.

“I think I got a closing satisfaction out of the deal that I never got when I came home,” Trever said.

While the tour may have come to an end, that was not the end of the Honor Flight experience. That evening, the veterans returned to a sea of people in the Appleton airport. There were marching bands, barbershop quartets, choirs, along with friends and family to greet the returning veterans.

“If you would have seen the people in the Appleton airport, you would have been emotional. I bet there were 2,000 people at the Appleton airport,” he said.

“It was wall-to-wall people,” Sandy added.

Coming back to such a greeting from his friends and family, Trever couldn’t help the tears from coming.

“It was very emotional. Something I didn’t get when we came home before [from Vietnam],” he said. “I don’t know how many people grabbed me and hugged me.”

“The best thing, or next best thing, was mail call,” he added.

On the return flight home, each veteran receives letters and cards sent to them by friends, family, and community members, thanking them for their service.

“Every person on that plane couldn’t help but cry,” said Trever, who received more than 30 letters. “I have some letters that I’ll treasure forever.”

Upon returning home, Fisher believes that Trever “has been a whole different Joe” and believes the Honor Flight provided much-needed healing and recognition. And he recommends the experience for others.

To his fellow Vietnam veterans, he said, “nominate yourself and go! It is well worth it. They earned it, they deserve it… I think anyone that was there [Vietnam] should hold their head up high and be honored that they served. We should not have to hide that fact.”