It’s been a long time coming, but two local veterans are currently on a trip of a lifetime — reporting for their last duty assignment — the Honor Flight.
Fred Moore, a U.S. Marine veteran, and John Zollan, a U.S. Army veteran, both of Rio Communities, were selected to participate in the trip with other veterans, to remember friends and comrades lost, and share their stories and experiences with each other.
The Honor Flight of Northern New Mexico, which serves veterans from the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War eras, honors veterans by taking them to the nation’s capital to visit the memorials and monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifice.
For Moore and Zollan, the trip has been two years in the making. Both were selected as two of 25 veterans by the Honor Flight of Northern New Mexico Board to take the trip in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trip was postponed.
“I’m very excited,” Moore said last week about the trip. “We’ve been waiting for this to happen for two years. It’s an honor for past and present veterans. It’s an honor for them, too.”
“I’m ecstatic,” Zollan said prior to the trip. “I’ve been really looking forward to this.
“I’m sure that there are a lot more veterans that did a heck of a lot more than I did who will never got to go. Like Fred said, we’re representing them also.”
Moore, a Korean and Vietnam veteran, was in college when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. He started off as a corporal in Korea in 1953 to 1954. When he returned home, he became a drill instructor, and made the military his career.
Moore went to Vietnam in 1967 and was there during the TET Offensive. Along with working in logistics, he was a company commander of a reaction force at Chu Lai.
He served 20 years in the Marine Corp., and moved to New Mexico in 1992. He joined the Secundino Baldonado American Legion Auxiliary Unit 81 in Belen in 2014.
Zollan joined the U.S. Navy in 1948 when he was 18 years old, right after he graduated high school in California.
“They (the government) was talking about doing the draft and I didn’t want to go into the Army, so I joined the Navy,” Zollan remembers. “Five or six months after, they decided they weren’t going to institute the draft.”
He served on the U.S.S. Valley Forge, an aircraft carrier, and was traveling to Australia when word came down that North Korea attacked South Korea in June 1950. Zollan and his shipmates made their way to the region the following day.
As a photographer for the Navy, Zollan served two tours in Korea on the U.S.S. Valley Forge, and third on the U.S.S. Bremerton, a heavy cruiser.
Zollan never regretted his decision to join the military, only that he didn’t stay in longer. He was discharged after four years of service.
Zollan, who moved to New Mexico in 2006, joined the local American Legion in 2012, and served as commander for two years, and is currently the post’s finance officer.
Moore, age 91, is also a past member of the Chavez-Curran VFW Post 2387 in Belen, while Zollan, age 92, is a lifetime member.
The two veterans left on the annual Honor Flight Wednesday, and are staying in Baltimore with fellow veterans and their guardians, who are members of their family who accompany them on the trip.
Moore’s guardian is his nephew, Chad Hall, an Iraq U.S. Army veteran; while Zollan’s son, Ramon, is his escort.
While the veterans’ trip is paid in full by the Honor Flight Network, the cost for each of their guardians was $1,000. In an effort to help with the expenses, members of the local American Legion, the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary, the Sons of the American Legion and the American Legion Riders all contributed to cover their expenses.
On Thursday, the veterans have a day-long itinerary set including visiting the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War memorials. They’ll then travel to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the changing of the guard.
The veterans and their guardians will also visit the Navy Museum and, if time permits, the Iwo Jima Memorial.
While in the nation’s capital, the veterans will be able to meet and talk with U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.).
The public will have an opportunity to thank the 25 veterans for their service during a Friday, June 3, welcome-home ceremony at the Albuquerque International Sunport,
The return flight to Albuquerque arrives about 2:10 p.m. The public is encouraged to begin arriving inside the terminal building at 1:15 p.m. and to wear red, white and blue.
To learn more about the Honor Flight, visit honorflight.org.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.