BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s more than your regular Honor Flight.
The Native American Honor Flight honors a minority within a minority — Native American veterans.
“At first it came with mixed feelings, because you know, I started with the army that my ancestors fought against,” said Salvador Hernandez, enrolled member of the Salinan tribe. “But now, we serve with them.”
Both Hernandez and Ron Chavez are Native Americans and both veterans of the Vietnam War, two of the 42,000 Native American fighters sent to Vietnam between 1964 and 1975, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.
“I was one of those individuals that was drafted back in ‘68,” said Chavez, a descendant of the Chichimecas. “I just knew I was gonna be infantry all the way.”
Chavez and Hernandez, along with other Native American vets, are headed to Washington on the morning of Nov. 1.
“I never thought of myself as going,” said Hernandez. “I’m very happy about it. I just can’t wait to get over there and enjoy what everybody’s talking about. And as a veteran, I want to enjoy that also.”
However, without the hard work, and a lot of fundraising, this journey wouldn’t be possible. According to Honor Flight Kern County, the organization recently raised over $53,000 to make it happen with the help of the Ralph Bailey show.
“I just want to thank all the people that worked so hard to put this organization together and all of the work they’ve done,” said Chavez. “They get nothing in return, they raise all the money.”
With the help of Honor Flight Kern County, people like Hernandez and Chavez will experience, what they say, is a once in a lifetime trip.
“All that has been told to me about this trip, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be in for something of my lifetime,” said Hernandez.
“It’s just an honor to be even talking about it as a representative,” said Chavez.
The celebration of Native Americans doesn’t end with the honor flight — in fact, it’s just beginning, as the first day of November each year marks the first day of Native American Heritage Month. And for people like Chavez, being a Native American means taking great pride in who you are.
“I think the Natives, number one, were the original Americans,” said Chavez. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud to say — I am an American.”