When his wife, Sheri, telephoned VVA Oregon State Council President Ron Morgan to explain that her husband’s final wish was to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, Morgan knew he had to do something. Elliot had served in the Army from 1963-70, enlisting rather than waiting for the draft to get him. He completed OCS and Special Forces training and served with the 101st and 82nd Airborne. He even parachuted onto the peaks of the Swiss Alps during his training. Now Harold Elliot was dying of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s; he couldn’t wait any longer.
Morgan tried to get Elliot onto one of the Honor Flights for Oregon veterans to visit the memorials in D.C. However, a doctor would have to certify that Elliot was terminally ill with less than a year to live in order for him to secure a seat on the flight that left in September.
But because Elliot’s health had improved somewhat, Morgan was unable to get him on the flight. Undeterred, Morgan called on VVA Oregon Chapters 271 in Salem, 585 in Albany, 805 in Roseburg, and 821 in LaPine to help honor this veteran’s last wishes. Chapter members responded in force, raising enough money to provide for Harold and Sheri Elliot’s airfare and lodging.
Morgan also reached out to Bruce Waxman, President of Dean K. Phillips Memorial Chapter 227 in Northern Virginia to see if VVA members there could provide ground transportation and tours of the monuments. “I sent out a Minuteman Alert, ” Waxman said in an interview. His effort garnered tremendous support. “When I asked my board about pitching in to help with transportation, ” Waxman said, “at first they weren’t really sure, because we had never done anything like this before. But we felt like we had to help this man if we could.”
Col. Ben Buckley waited at National Airport to pick up Harold and Sheri Elliot, then chauffeured them to their hotel. The next day, Frank Levesque, a retired Special Forces Sergeant Major, escorted them to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns and provided a guided tour. Levesque, a post-Vietnam War veteran, swapped stories with Elliot along the way about their assignments.
Waxman also arranged for the group to receive a self-guided tour of the White House later that afternoon. Waxman met them there, along with AVVA member Melissa Kalner, who helped with the tour. While exploring the White House, the group had the chance to attend the preparations for a welcome ceremony for Park Geun-hye, the President of Korea.
Bill Lynch took charge of the second leg of the journey, driving the Elliots to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial the following day, where they met Jim Knott, CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Knott took them on a tour of all four Vietnam War memorials—The Wall, the Women’s Memorial, the Three Fightingmen, and the In Memory plaque. They also visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
Knott presented Elliot with a Vietnam veteran pin at the end of their tour. Later that evening, Lynch took the Elliots to Chapter 227’s Thirtieth Anniversary Dinner, where retired Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, author of Skin in the Game , spoke.
The next day, Ron Morgan and Bruce Waxman, along with several other Chapter 227 members and their families, celebrated the success of the trip over lunch at an Italian restaurant. Morgan presented each volunteer with a medallion, an Oregon State Council pin, and thanks for helping a veteran check off two important items on his bucket list. An Alaska Airlines crew provided the Elliots with free food, drinks, and movies on their flight home.
Less than two months later, on December 17, Harold Elliot died. He was 74 years old.
By Jake Schuessler