Gary Weiss 1966 graduated from the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) and attended one year at the University of Minnesota Technical Institute before “Uncle Sam” came calling and had other plans for him. After basic training, getting wounded on assignment in Vietnam, and spending months in hospitals rehabbing, he was medically discharged and retired from the Army. Over 50 years later, Weiss, and, to his surprise, at least six other NWSA graduates, went on a flight of a lifetime – the Honor Flight to Washington D.C.
Weiss applied to go on the Honor Flight in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, the program didn’t go due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2022, he finally got the call - they would be leaving on September 11 out of Grand Forks, N.D.
“We left pretty early in the morning, around 6 a.m.,” Weiss recalled. “We had police and fire trucks all lined up and drove into the airport with all the lights flashing. It was quite touching.”
Weiss’ Honor Flight group landed in Baltimore, Maryland and from there boarded four buses to Fort McHenry where the Star Spangled Banner was written. Next, they went to the National Archives, and almost all the military memorials including Iwo Jima, Korean, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“Vietnam Memorial was probably the one I wanted to see the most as we had a classmate that graduated with us in 1966 and his name was on that wall,” Weiss continued. “There were other people from my hometown on that wall, too. It got to be quite the emotional day. You really appreciate the work they put into those things, that’s for sure.”
Other trip highlights for Weiss included visiting with other veterans who had the same experiences and the nightly banquets that had entertainment, programs from the 1960s and 1970s, and music from the eras veterans were in the service. Plus, they were able to visit the Smithsonian and the Pentagon, witness the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, and view the Declaration of Independence. But there was one event that stuck out the most.
“One of the most touching things was they had a mail call,” Weiss shared. “When you applied for the flight you had a list of people to contact in case there were issues, and the lady that heads it all up out of Fargo contacted my daughter to send letters to her. That day I got this packet and letters from my daughter, neighbors, friends, and my wife. I ended up with 30 different letters.”
“By the time I read them I was wasted, there were a couple tears shed for sure,” he added.
When the group returned back to the airport, they were greeted by hundreds welcoming them home. There were balloons and bands, law enforcement, friends and family, Weiss recalled with emotion.
“One thing I’ll say to veterans, no doubt, if you ever have a chance, apply and go on this flight,” Weiss offered. “Just know you’re very tired by the time you get home.”
Looking back at his recent Honor Flight experience, his military experience, his family, and his education at NWSA, Weiss said he has a lot to be thankful for. He was born in Crookston and lived in Red Lake Falls, Minn., all his life. Weiss and his wife, Terry, were married in 1970 and have two children, Jonathan and Bridgette. They also have two grandsons, one attending college at North Dakota State University and one is a physical therapist.
“We live in just about the same section of land I grew up on so I didn’t have to move far,” Weiss joked. “I went to Red Lake Falls school through eighth grade and then I was a freshman when I started at the Northwest School in 1962.”
Weiss said some of his favorite memories at NWSA were meeting all the different people, living in the dorms, and playing sports. He played football for the Aggies all four years of high school and played basketball until his junior year.
“I remember traveling for sports to Moorhead State University, Glyndon, Cass Lake, and Fisher,” he explained. “By the time I graduated they were looking at turning the school into a college so there weren’t many games my senior year.”
Some of the classes Weiss enjoyed were anything ag-related like dairy production with Dr. Marx, engines and welding, and some of the history and English classes, too. He did go home on weekends and helped on the farm when he wasn’t in school. After graduation, he continued farming with his dad until the military came calling. Following deployment and spending time in hospitals in Japan, Colorado, and Texas due to his injuries, Weiss returned home to Red Lake Falls and got married shortly after. He and Terry purchased a farm from his mother’s cousin near where he grew up and they’ve lived there ever since. They farmed with Weiss’ dad and brother, had dairy cattle then beef cattle, and raised wheat, soybeans, and corn before retiring.
Written for the December 2022 Torchlight e-Newsletter.