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U.S. Navy Seawolves honored for their service in Vietnam War

Honor Flight San Diego is dedicating its fall trip to Washington D.C. to the U.S. Navy Seawolves who will go on a trip of a lifetime.

SAN DIEGO — A new generation of veterans is joining Honor Flight San Diego's flight to Washington D.C.

On Friday, the non-profit announced it is dedicating its fall flight exclusively to the U.S. Navy Seawolves who fought in the Vietnam War.

“I was a door gunner back of the huey, Flew with some really good pilots,” said Gary Ely, U.S. Navy Seawolf.

The second-class petty officer climbed in the back of the Helicopter Attack Light Squadron known as the HAL-3 Navy Seawolves on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway Museum where he maintains the huey.

“You can call me most handsome of the Seawovles,” said Ely.

He and nearly 3,000 Seawolves served in the Vietnam War.

“There's no way you can experience what went on over there and how it went about. Unless you were there,” said Ely.

The volunteer unit is the most decorated squadron during the Vietnam War and all of Naval aviation history, yet they weren't recognized until 38 years later in 2010 by Congress.

“They did not get the homecomings that they deserve, they did not get the recognition that they deserved. So we're here today to say that Honor Flight San Diego is going to honor our Vietnam veterans,” said Holly Shaffner, Honor Flight San Diego Director of Public Relations and U.S. Coast Guard veteran.

Honor Flight San Diego, a non-profit that has been flying World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington DC for 12 years, is dedicating its fall to flight to 100 Navy Seawolves.

“It shows that we're getting a little bit of recognition that we never got when we came home,” said Ely.

Honor Flight says they flew hand-me-down helios from the Army and provided air support for the Brown Water Navy in south Vietnam. They flew the most combat missions; 200 men were injured and 44 died.

“They saved countless lives, countless American lives. And there would have been more names on that wall [Vietnam War Memorial] had it not been for the Navy Seawolves,” said Shaffner.

Ely is the interim president of the HAL-3 Seawolf Association where hundreds of veterans unite each year.

“We did our job right. There were supposed to be people didn't get killed hurt,” said Ely.

WATCH: Full interview with Gary Ely:

This is has a deeper meaning for Honor Flight volunteer Mel Taitano.

“It's indescribable,” said Taitano. “It's just an honor. And it just makes me feel that my dad is here when I'm able to sit down and talk to them.”

She recalls a conversation she had with her father when she learned he served in the Navy Seawolves shortly before he died. Her father, Door Gunner, Lt. Anthony “Rosy” Rosario, who served in the Seawolves didn't talk much about his service. 

"You know, how come you never talked about it? You guys were so brave. You all are your heroes. And he just shrugged his shoulders, and he said, ‘I just did what I had to do,’” said Taitano.

Her father served with Ely and now they share a special bond. These relationships help build comradery with loved ones, an unbreakable brotherhood and pride for their country.

“I've never been ashamed of what I did. I wouldn't want to go back and do it today,” said Ely. “I respect my service a lot.”

Honor Flight will take off with their special flight of HAL-3 Navy Seawolves on September 30 and return on October 2.

There are an estimated 60,000 Vietnam Veterans in San Diego County. Honor Flight San Diego is only accepting applications from Navy Seawolves for the fall flight. Seawolves are encouraged to apply at www.HonorFlightSanDiego.org.

What an honor to share the big news from Honor Flight San Diego! They’ll be taking their first all Vietnam veteran...

Posted by Abbie Alford on Friday, February 25, 2022

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