Update: As of 11:30 a.m. Oct. 28, the Welcome Home event has been canceled. According to an email from Mike Phillips, Delta Airlines bumped Paul Kirkus from three flights.
“I have just been advised that Delta Airlines has again bumped them off their Plan B flight, one that I was able to secure for them by calling Delta Corporate. They would not however do anything to help this guy out. Keep this in mind when your choosing your flights,” Phillips wrote. “We are hoping Paul makes it home soon, I will be trying to work on a Plan C to get them a ride back to their home in Edgerton from KCI, hopefully tonight.”
Mike Phillips, “Shadow” to his friends, doesn’t want any soldier returning home from service to feel unwelcome.
It happened to many Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.
“A lot of the guys that you talk to – a lot of them are Vietnam vets – a lot of them were spit on as they were welcomed home,” Phillips said. “That was back then. I would like to think that the public has opened their eyes a little bit. Don’t hate the soldier. You can hate the politicians. You can hate the war, but don’t hate the soldier.”
Phillips said he sat down and talked to a Vietnam Veteran the other day, and the discussion brought up unpleasant memories for the former soldier.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “I’m glad he said something to me. A lot of these guys will not. They were disrespected. That’s kind of my goal is to make sure that what happened back in the ‘60s and ‘70s doesn’t happen the same way. It can’t.”
As the vice president of the American Legion Riders for Post 19 in Gardner, Phillips said he hopes most who serve receive thanks rather than criticism.
“I’m trying to change public perception one event at a time,” he said.
When he heard Paul Kirkus, a member of the U.S. Army from Edgerton, would be returning home this week, Phillips wanted to make Kirkus feel welcome.
With the help of the American Legion Riders from Post 19 in Gardner, Phillips and other members of the legion riders planned to escort Kirkus home from the Kansas City airport. They intended to lead the family’s vehicle on dozens of motorcycles complete with American flags attached.
As they began to plan for Kirkus’ arrival, a private donor offered the services of a limosine and driver. Homecoming organizers worked with local police to find a safe and expedient path from the airport to the Kirkus home in Edgerton, and Phillips sent word to get people on the streets to wave flags as the limo passed through Gardner.
In Edgerton, organizers went one step further. Small flags lined most city streets with a large avenue of flags leading to Kirkus’ house.
The welcome wagon was ready, but things didn’t go without a hitch.
Kirkus and his wife were scheduled to arrive in Kansas City in the early afternoon hours of Wednesday, Oct. 27. The pair was returning from San Diego where Kirkus’ deployment ended. His wife met him in California, and the pair planned to fly home together.
By midday Wednesday afternoon, the Kirkus’ flight time was delayed. A few hours later, their connection flight from Atlanta to Kansas City was canceled.
“No matter when they get them in, we need to get them home,” Phillips said when he the limo service was in jeopardy due to the flight cancellation.
At press time, the Kirkus’ weren’t home yet. Their arrival time had been delayed by 24 hours, and they are rescheduled to arrive home in Edgerton at around 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Phillips said the welcome home event is one of the more enjoyable events he’s participated in as a member of the American Legion Riders. The riders often escort remains of fallen soldiers and assist at military funerals.
“I’ve done 36 funerals in two years,” Phillips said. “And when we get the opportunity to do a welcome home, it’s greatly needed at that point. You go to so many funerals and you feel the grief of these families. Many have sacrificed. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice. When these guys come home, they need to be welcomed. They need to be thanked.”