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World War II Veteran makes handmade gifts for Vietnam Veterans

85 Navy Seawolves will receive 'Challenge Coin Holders' on this weekend's Honor Flight.

FALLBROOK, Calif. — On Friday, September 30, a special Honor Flight will leave San Diego for Washington DC. Before that flight takes off, a World War II veteran will present eighty-five handmade gifts to veterans from the Vietnam War. In this Zevely Zone, I visited a very busy wood shop in Fallbrook. 

For some veterans, a garage or workshop is a place to bury old painful memories in boxes but that is not what is happening at the home of Dick Erickson. Three years ago, Dick was down in the dumps. "My wife had just passed away after 69 years," said the 95-year-old WW II veteran. 

Dick's doctor suggested he take an Honor Flight in October 2021 to visit our nation's war memorials to cheer him up. "I was in the Navy," said Dick who dropped out of high school as a 17-year old to serve his country. Dick enlisted in the Navy to be a part of World War II.

Credit: Dick Erickson: Honor Flight 2021

Following his emotional Honor Flight experience, Dick returned home so invigorated, he went to work in his wood shop making coin holders for his fellow veterans. "I get so many smiles and I get so many tears too," said Dick. 

Holly Shaffner from Honor Flight says the handmade wood holders serve as a home for what are called Challenge Coins. "When someone gives a military veteran or someone a Challenge Coin it means thank you for a job well done," said Holly. 

Credit: Dick Erickson: Honor Flight 2021

The next Honor Flight takes place September 30 through October 2nd and will be a first of its kind. "This flight is special because it's all Vietnam Veterans," said Holly. "The Seawolves are the most decorated unit of Naval Aviation history and the most decorated naval unit of the entire Vietnam War." 

The legendary river rescues are detailed in the award-winning documentary Scramble the Seawolves narrated by Mike Rowe. "They get a call and they'd be in the air in three minutes," said Dick. "What they did was absolutely remarkable." Dick is making a coin holder for all 85 of the Seawolves on the flight. "It is just an overwhelming satisfaction," said Dick.  

Credit: Dick Erickson: Honor Flight 2021

The only dust gathering in his workshop is on the floor after a job well done, which explains the sign that reads 'Sawdust Therapy'. "I said I have to do it, I just have to do it," said Dick. "It's changed my life completely; I really have a purpose now."

Credit: Dick Erickson: Honor Flight 2021

You are invited to come to the airport on Sunday, Oct. 2nd to welcome the heroes home. They arrive at 1:15 pm, so you will need to be at Terminal 2 baggage claim by noon in case they catch a tailwind. 

Honor Flight San Diego (HFSD) is a non-profit branch of the nationwide Honor Flight Network which consists of over 130 independent "hubs" across America. HFSD escorts veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials using monies donated by individuals, foundations, associations, business owners and corporations who wish to recognize our veterans' contributions and thank them for their service and sacrifice to the United States and its citizens.

RELATED: 'Hero Homecoming' | Honor Flight 2022 returns to San Diego

Top priority for their trips is given to the most senior veterans, currently World War II and Korea War veterans, and to veterans who have terminal illnesses. Starting in September 2022, they began taking Vietnam War Veterans and have selected the Navy HA(L)-3 Seawolves to go first.

RELATED: Honor Flight 2022: Three days of pride and patriotism with military veterans

CBS 8's Keristen Holmes and photojournalist Chris Vega will be the only San Diego TV news crew on this weekend's Honor Flight.  Look for their special reports starting on Friday at 6 pm.

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