SWEET HOME — John Jurica’s family has a long history of military service to the United States.
His grandfather was a decorated World War I veteran. His father and two uncles served in World War II and one uncle gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Cousins served in the Korea War. Jurica himself served in Germany and Vietnam.
Friday morning, Jurica who lives on the Calapooia River south of Sweet Home, and his son John of Albany, will join 44 other veterans and their escorts on a South Willamette Valley Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
In all, 105 people will board Alaska Flight 764 and spend the weekend touring the capital, especially its numerous military memorials.
“I’ve seen the traveling Vietnam wall, but I’m excited to see the real thing,” Jurica said.
Juric will carry a piece of paper with the names of 13 members of his military police platoon who were killed during their year in Vietnam.
“I knew six of them,” Jurica said.
It’s important to Jurica that he will share the experience with his son.
Jurica grew up in communities throughout the Pacific Northwest because his father worked in the construction industry and the family moved wherever there was work.
He graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1966 and enlisted in the Army in 1967.
“I was working in a sawmill and knew I was probably going to get drafted,” Jurica said. “I thought I would be in in the infantry, but ended up in the military police. They shipped all but a few of us to Vietnam and we went to Germany for two years before I was shipped to Vietnam for a year.”
Jurica said enlisting in the Army was a natural fit for him.
“I was a country boy who packed a hunting rifle ever since I was 10 or 11 years old,” he said.
Jurica said he was assigned to the 11th Infantry unit.
“We mostly assisted with convoys and POW transfers,” Jurica said. “But in Vietnam, everyplace was dangerous.”
Jurica was discharged from the Army in 1970.
He began working for the Bureau of Land Management as a heavy equipment operator, a career that would span 31 years.
“I worked out of all five BLM districts,” Jurica said. “They would loan us out to other districts for special projects.”
He also enlisted in the National Guard, where he would serve 17 years.
Jurica said he read about the Honor Flight program several years ago and applied.
“I was told they were trying to work their way through the World War II and Korean War veterans and would soon get to us Vietnam guys,” Jurica said. “I kind of forgot about it and really wasn’t sure if I wanted to go, but my wife’s uncle, Richard Vanice of Albany, went a couple years ago and he really enjoyed it. I talked to him quite a bit about the trip.”
Jurica’s home workshop — where he refurbishes old Jeeps as a hobby — sports an Army flag, a symbol of his pride of service.
“I liked serving, but I didn’t like the way soldiers were treated when we returned home from Vietnam,” he said. “It just wasn’t right. One minute you were in the field and in a few days, you were back home. There was no counseling, no assistance.”
Ed Bock, director of the South Willamette Valley Honor Flight, said this trip’s participants range in age from the 60s to the 90s.
“There are 13 veterans who served in World War II, 23 who served in Korea and another nine who served in Vietnam,” Bock said. “Each has a caregiver and some of them are veterans themselves.”
Bock said this is the 13th trip sponsored by the South Willamette Valley group, which encompasses Linn, Benton, Lane and Lincoln counties.
“We have taken 503 veterans to date,” Bock said. “Our first flight was in late 2012.”
Bock said this will be his ninth trip including one he took with his 96-year-old father, Ed, who lives in Sun Lakes, Arizona.
“The ability to make a trip with my dad, to get his history from birth to where he is now was so rewarding,” Bock said. “He never talked about his war experiences and so I had him as a captive audience on the trip out and back. I found out so much about his life and military service that it inspired me to get involved and to pay back.”
Bock said it’s important to “say thank you to these guys. These guys came back from war, put their overalls on and went back to work. The guys from Korea did the same thing and it’s well-documented on how the Vietnam guys were treated. This is a real opportunity for us to make amends.”
Bock said he can actually see some of the veterans “begin to heal” as the journey unfolds.
“It does them a lot of good to see how we are honoring our military veterans today,” Bock said. “We often get comments and notes from family members that say their dad, grandfather or son has changed. They have opened up and are now willing to talk about what they did and why they did it.”
Bock said the trips provide family benefits and are rewarding for the volunteers as well.
Sponsors cover the expenses for veterans and guardians and volunteers are asked to make a tax deductible donation to the program to cover their expenses.