Have you ever had a casual conversation with an acquaintance and find them saying “I wish I could…?” That is what happened to me three weeks ago. My name is Thom Iannarino and I am a two-tour combat vet of the Vietnam War. My acquaintance Leonard Hammons is 87 years old, a combat vet of the Korean War, US Army Engineers, and a combat vet of the Vietnam War, US Navy Seabees, a retired policeman, has Parkinson disease and is 90% blind, loves his Bible, lives at home with his daughter and grandchildren in Simpsonville, and is aided by Wren Hospice of Greer.
Leonard was introduced to me five weeks ago by Tim Bishop, the Volunteer Coordinator for WREN HOSPICE. Since becoming what I call myself “a VET 2 VET” volunteer, Leonard has shared many of his life experiences, especially his love for God, and this takes us back to “I wish I could…go flying again.”
McComb, Missouri was Leonard’s hometown until he left to join the military. As a young boy he would sneak off after school against his mother’s orders to the local Pike County Airport south of town where he would clean the hanger floors, pick up debris on the aircraft ramps, and even wash and service with gas and oil the small private aircraft. In return Leonard was compensated with flying lessons. He never received his private license because his older brother ratted him out to his Mom.
Way too soon, at age 14, Leonard had to drop out of school to help support the family. When the Korean War broke out Leonard enlisted in the US Army where he became a heavy equipment operator in the Engineer Corps. After the war he reenlisted but this time in the US Navy where again he was an equipment operator but as Seabee.
During his tour in Vietnam as a Navy Seabee Leonard leveled the ground for the construction of all types of buildings as well as for numerous runways all over Vietnam. Upon completion of each mission he would fly to his next assignment mostly in helicopters. It was while flying in the choppers he remembered his fondness for flying as a kid back in McComb.
On July 3, 2019 Leonard got his wish! “I wish I could…go flying again.” Along with Leonard on this flight was one of his granddaughters, Danni Boutwell, Mike Griffith the pilot from the Flight School of Greenville and me, Thom Iannarino. All of this was arranged by Sid Eargle, Outdoor Adventure Coordinator with Upstate Warrior Solution.
On hand for Leonard’s flight were the daughter he lives with, Jessica Boutwell, Tim Bishop, and Sid Eargle. Our flight lasted an hour. Through the intercom of the radio all of us asked Leonard how he was doing. From the lips of a man who appears to have so much going against him you hear nothing but “Thank You… this is the greatest!” His thanks were always spoken with what you know is truly a joyous heart. On the ground along with more “Thank Yous!”, you also see the tears of a man who has come full circle.
By Thom Iannarino♦