Air Force vet reflects on 'great' trip, 'solemn' memorials

Cary Ashby • Oct 18, 2018 at 4:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a four-part series.


WASHINGTON — U.S. Air Force veteran Bruce Failor obtained an etching of a Monroeville man’s name. He never met the soldier who died in Vietnam serving his country.

A volunteer park ranger did the etching of the late Robert Parsley, whose name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.

“I never met the gentleman, but he was from Monroeville, so I had this made to take back to the American Legion in Monroeville,” said Failor, who heard about Parsley’s local roots on the Huron County Honor Trip.

Volunteers such as the smiling and friendly Air Force veteran Sharon Bannister obtain the etchings and/or take photos of the names for tourists and memorial visitors — often by climbing a ladder to do so. Coincidentally, her father’s name is on the memorial wall. 

Failor, of Norwalk, was with the Huron County Honor Trip participants who visited the wall Saturday morning in Washington. He served in the Air Force from 1958 through 1962.

“I’m from Monroeville originally and now I live in Norwalk,” said the 1958 Monroeville High School graduate.

More than 30 veterans, their spouses and family members were on the three-day trip. The event included tours of the Vietnam Veterans, Lincoln, Marine Corps, Korean War, World War II, Air Force, Pentagon and American Veterans Disabled for Life memorials in and near the nation’s capital.

Failor was asked about the impact of being at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.

“It’s really great; this whole trip has been great. Of course my favorite was the Air Force memorial. The Pentagon (memorial) is a close first too,” he said.

At the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., are four statues — one of which is a woman — that honor its members. 

Behind the statues is a wall with a history of the Air Force and its heritage predecessors. It originally was part of the U.S. Army, created in 1918 and known as the U.S. Army Air Service. The memorial also includes three stainless-steel arcs that are 201 to 270 feet tall and resemble contrails from planes.

“I like the contrails. I could picture the jets at the top of each contrail,” Failor said.

The group visited the National 9-11 Pentagon Memorial on Friday night. Sloping, stainless steel benches are in an area on the side of the Pentagon which was hit by an airplane overtaken by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001. 

Failor said he enjoyed how the memorial was set up.

Victim's names are engraved on the edge of the benches, which have lit pools of water under them. Each one slopes toward where he or she died — the Pentagon or the Pennsylvania crash site of Flight 93. The benches are angled toward the path of the plane that crashed into the federal building and are in rows of the victim's birth year.

“It was beautiful at night and it was solemn. I became a little … I felt it deep in my heart,” said Failor, who was touched by the memorial in ways he didn’t expect.

Eight local students were on the trip. From Norwalk High School were sophomores Braden Lloyd, Lochlyn Ramsey, Chanse Raymond and Cadence Scott and senior Olivia Schaffer. From St. Paul were sophomore Jackson Cook, junior Jarret Schaffer and senior Raquel Taggart. 

Selected by NHS science teacher Nate Whaley, an Army veteran, and St. Paul art and theology teacher Christine Galati, the students partnered with vets in wheelchairs, helped them get on and off the bus and bonded with the participants.

Patrick Schwan, of Norwalk, was on the trip with his father-in-law, Richard Pheiffer. Also of Norwalk, Pheiffer served in the Army.

“It’s special because my father-in-law was in Vietnam. Just kinda moving, I guess, to see all the veterans and all the memories they have of their buddies and fellows they lost in the war; it’s touching,” Schwan said.

The first stop Friday afternoon was the hangar for the National Air and Space Museum near Washington Dulles International Airport. The trip ended Sunday morning with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

Schwan was asked how this trip impacted him. He said he was most struck by “the camaraderie of the fellas” and seeing the veterans connect with each other over the weekend.

“A lot of them probably didn’t know each other until this trip. Just seeing them bond and share stories — I think it just helps them talk about their past and the memories they have. Good or bad, they are able to share those and talk through things; it’s just special for them,” Schwan said.

“It’s meaningful for me and my father-in-law. He just asked me to come along. It’s always special when we come to the wall to see this. It’s special to be here with him.”

Schwan and Pheiffer have been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial about six times.

“Every time I come down here it’s a big impact, just because I know he was in the war. He’s one of the lucky ones (who) got to come home from the war,” Schwan said. 

“I know there was a lot of pain and things for a lot of families and so it’s kinda special for us to come down here. This is one of my favorite monuments and memorials here in Washington, D.C.”

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