Taking Flight

Jason Ferguson
On Oct. 12, Virgil Kock of Custer had a very long day. However, it’s one for the Vietnam veteran that was long overdue, and one he would gladly relive.
On that day Virgil became the second Custer veteran in as many years to embark on the Midwest Honor Flight, which transports America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials that honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their veteran friends. Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices.
Virgil believes he was nominated for the flight by his older brother, Allen, who is also a veteran and joined Virgil on the flight. About a month before leaving, Virgil said he was informed by his brother they were selected for the flight.
“I said, ‘Alright, sounds good,’” Virgil remembers. “I couldn’t believe it.”
When he asked his brother if he had nominated him, Allen just smiled.
The brothers served in the military during the Vietnam era, with Allen enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He served two tours in Vietnam between 1966-69 as a Seabee.
Virgil was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968, and served until 1970 with the 25th Infantry Division. He served six months before returning home, at which time he had to bury his wife, who had died in a car accident. He then returned to Vietnam for another half year.
“And they weren’t kidding when they said infantry,” Virgil said, recalling doing tons of walking with “100 pounds of junk” on his back.
Virgil, who grew up in Colton, went on to serve 18 years in the South Dakota Army National Guard after leaving active duty. He traveled to Salem to serve in that Guard unit even though he lived in Custer.
“I didn’t make any money. I burned it all on gas,” he said with a laugh. “Some of the guys called me dad or grandpa. I had 10 to 15 years on everybody. They were my guys.”
Before embarking on the flight from the Sioux Falls Airport, the veterans were treated to dinner, but had to be up bright and early—3:30 a.m.—to catch the 5:30 a.m. flight from Sioux Falls. After a hero’s welcome in Sioux Falls the Kocks set about their day with their other fellow veterans, stopping at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, all of the service branch memorials and war memorials, among other stops while in Washington D.C.
Virgil said he was impressed by the various war memorials, but said the memorial for the war in which he served, Vietnam, wasn’t particulary moving. He said he declined to try to find names of soldiers he might have known who fell in the war.
The flight returned to Sioux Falls at 8:30 p.m., and a Welcome Home Ceremony followed at the Sioux Falls arena. His wife, Kathy, was waiting for him when he returned, as were two of his three children, his grandchildren and some friends.
He and Allen received the warm welcome home they never received when they returned from Vietnam.
“A little late, but better than nothing,” Virgil said. “Better late than never.”
Virgil, who is a life member of the Custer VFW and American Legion, said his favorite part of the trip was being around the other veterans for five hours of flying. He thought he might know at least one of the 120 others on the flight, not counting his brother.
“I didn’t know a damn one,” he said with a laugh.
Virgil said the trip was an awe-inspiring experience, and he would gladly return again, provided he could stay a little while longer.
“I’d have to have some money and stay there for another day on my own,” he said. “There were very, very nice people. I’ve never heard my big brother laugh as hard as he did (on the flight). That made me feel good.”

User login