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A tearful trip for a proud veteran

Staff writer

John Siebert of Marion, a Navy Seals team leader in Vietnam for six months in 1970, recently returned from an honor flight to Washington, D.C., with 90 other former Navy Seals.

Six of them he trained with, and three were from his platoon.

Siebert flew from Wichita to San Diego, where the Seals met and were housed in a hotel before flying the next day to the capital. He was accompanied by a volunteer guardian who assisted him as he rode in a wheelchair for long walks.

The greeting the veterans got when they returned to San Diego was a highlight of the trip, Siebert said.

The veterans disembarked on the second floor of San Diego International Airport and rode an escalator to the first floor, where they were greeted by a flag-waving, cheering crowd. Girl Scouts handed out cookies. Each veteran was recognized by name and welcomed.

The woman who announced names called Siebert “Father John,” a nickname his platoon gave him in Vietnam.

“There were no dry eyes among us,” Siebert said. “It was really moving.”

The $350,000 honor flight was free to the veterans and paid for by donations to Honor Flight San Diego.

In Washington, they were greeted by the secretary of the Navy and the vice admiral for Special Forces before visiting several war memorials.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Siebert traced from the wall the names of two soldiers he had known one was Bob Boese of Marion.

“Bob was one of the first friends I made here when I moved to Marion,” Siebert said.

While serving in Vietnam, Siebert had the responsibility of moving his team into the jungle at night to seek to capture VietCong leaders to determine their plans. At 20, he was the youngest member of the group.

“I like to be out front,” he said. “I like to see what’s going on.”

They captured at least 40 VietCong and had skirmishes with North Vietnamese forces 67 times.

“I once got a piece of shrapnel in my leg, and I pulled it out and stitched it up myself,” he said. “They wanted to give me a Purple Heart, but I said they should give it to someone else who had suffered more.”

At age 75, Siebert still has a sense of humor and a lot of vigor.

“I have a bad left hip and prosthesis on the right. I don’t have a leg to stand on,” he joked, “but I like to work. You play the cards you are dealt.”

Siebert gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to exercise in his workout room. He stays busy constructing Spring-o-matic tables for ranchers to use in trimming animal hooves. He also does custom tree-cutting in pastures. He recently bought 20 heifers to breed and resell in the fall.

Siebert graduated from Marion High School in 1968. He said training to become a Navy Seal was tough. He credits his high school football coach, LeRoy Dreier, for his success.

“He taught us that when the going gets tough, to just keep on going,” he said. “The lessons I learned in football helped me to get through it.”

Siebert has warm memories of longtime Record editor Bill Meyer.

“Bill was a World War II veteran and respected all military,” he said. “He wrote an article about me after I left the Navy in 1972. He and I were on the same page.”

Last modified May 9, 2024

 

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