KAYSVILLE — Larry Steed paid tribute to fallen fellow combat pilots, applauded military families that hold down the home front, and mixed in a few critiques of politicians and war protesters.
Steed, 84, headlined the Kaysville Memorial Day program Monday at the city cemetery, an event that drew several hundred people who benefited from a timely break in the rain storms.
He flew 126 missions over North Vietnam and Laos from June 1967 to July 1968. He retired as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years in the Air Force, which also included deployments during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Steed expressed ongoing frustration over political restrictions he said prevented the Air Force from inflicting damage against key targets during the Vietnam war.
He said decisions to limit the scope of the bombing prevented the pilots “from hitting all the really important targets, even though we were right over them.”
For example, trains in Hanoi packed with war materiel from China destined to be used against U.S. Marines in the south were off limits without previous permission to be bombed, he said.
He still rues such events every time he sees the Vietnam Memorial.
Of 50 pilots in his group who deployed against North Vietnam in 1967, 25 were shot down and 15 of those were killed.
He walked the audience through one of his missions leading F-4 fighters in escort of F-105 bombers. One F-105 pilot had to eject and parachuted, and was retrieved safely by a rescue helicopter after Steed and his fellow pilots orbited overhead to keep the enemy away, he said.
Steed spoke of his late wife, Donna, buried nearby in the cemetery.
She never complained while running their household and raising their children during his many deployments, he said.
Her service to the cause was an example of the “real sacrifice” that military families make, Steed said.
The veteran also described the silent treatment he got while returning to the United States and the Salt Lake City airport, wearing his Air Force uniform.
No one spoke to him on the plane, but he listened to passengers complaining about the airline running out of ice.
Back home in Davis County, “the only person who welcomed me home was another Vietnam veteran,” he said.
His criticism extended to today.
“We need more folks willing to stand up and defend our country instead of criticize it,” he said.
Retired Lt. Col. Jay Hess, of Farmington, who flew an F-105 and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, led the Kaysville audience in the pledge of allegiance.
Hess, 89, reminisced before the program about his captivity and the experience of his uncle, who went missing in action in World War I.
He said Memorial Day events such as Kaysville’s are appropriate to honor service members who gave their lives.
All veterans, he said, “wrote a check payable and some of them had to cash it.”