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Bailey Islander and Vietnam-era veteran participates in Honor Flight

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“It felt good,” Vazquez, 81, said about the acknowledgment she received from Honor Flight. “But at the same time, I mean, that was my job. … I didn’t do it because I have to. I just love to do it. I just love to serve others and take care of others.”

Vazquez volunteered to serve in Vietnam, but the military was not deploying female medics at the time. She ended up in San Francisco, a hub of anti-war activity where rank-and-file soldiers often became targets for anger about America’s role in Vietnam.

“When I was in San Francisco, we were afraid to (wear) our uniform outside,” Vazquez said. Soldiers would change into street clothes to venture off the base.

Like many of those soldiers, Vazquez has seen a shift in attitudes toward Vietnam-era veterans — and nowhere was that shift more evident than on her trip with Honor Flight.

“The way they look at us now, it is different from before,” Vazquez said. “It is more like respect — thank you for taking care of me.”

Honor Flight Maine, a volunteer-run nonprofit, takes veterans on group trips to the nation’s capital, where they can experience and reflect at memorials and other sites of significance. “Veterans experience camaraderie, bonding, and even healing,” the organization says on its website.

Vazquez’s tour included stops at the Military Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as Arlington National Cemetery.

Bailey Island veteran Minerva “Minnie” Vazquez holds a photograph of herself from her time in the U.S. Army. Vazquez worked as a medic and was responsible for the setup and operation of field hospitals. J.W. Oliver / Harpswell Anchor

Participants witness the changing of the guard at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to unidentified service members who were killed in action. The reverent ceremony “was the best part” of the trip, Vazquez said.

The veterans receive VIP treatment throughout the trip. People salute them and thank them for their service. They pay for nothing. They board planes first, and everything they need is brought to them.

On the way home, Honor Flight surprises the veterans with a military-style “mail call.” The veterans receive thank-you letters from family and friends, their congressional delegation, students, and other groups and individuals who want to show appreciation.

Veterans often become emotional at the memorials or during mail call — a reaction known as “Honor Flight allergies.” Vazquez was not immune.

Vazquez grew up in Manati, Puerto Rico. As a young woman, she followed her oldest brother to New York City. She worked in a factory and a hospital, but wanted something different.

She joined the U.S. Women’s Army Corps in October 1969. In addition to her service as a medic, she oversaw the setup and operation of field hospitals. She served in Germany and across the U.S., in Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Washington state, California and Hawaii.

In 1978, Congress disbanded the Women’s Army Corps and its members were integrated into the Army. Vazquez remembers the formerly all-male units as welcoming. Most of the men “were happy to see us and train together,” she said.

Vazquez retired from the military in October 1991. In retirement, she has dedicated much of her time to community service. She has volunteered with the Red Cross for 30 years and built homes with Habitat for Humanity.

Since settling on Bailey Island, she has given her time to Harpswell Aging at Home and other local causes. Despite the climate, the island reminds her of Puerto Rico.

Vazquez recommends the Honor Flight experience to fellow veterans — even though she didn’t enlist for recognition. “I just do things, and I don’t expect you to do anything in return,” Vazquez said about her service. “I just did it because … I want to do it and I love to do it.”

Honor Flight Maine arranges trips as it has funds available. The average cost per veteran is $1,000, and it has more than 450 on its waitlist. The organization serves veterans of all eras, but prioritizes older vets. For more information, go to

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