Fifty years ago when Carson City’s Tom Spencer drove a truck for the U.S. Army’s 359th Transportation Co., by hauling fuel in the Central Highlands, he and his fellow soldiers faced 13 ambushes during his two tours to Southeast Asia.
After the Vietnam War officially ended in 1975, thousands of soldiers, airmen and sailors left the military, never to revisit that chapter in their diaries again.
Spencer, though, considered it important to remain involved and help his fellow veterans — especially those from the Vietnam War era — to navigate their lives through the decades that followed. For his accomplishments and personal sacrifices in helping others, the Nevada Department of Veteran Services named Spencer as September’s Veteran of the Month and Jim Forbus, a major supporter of Honor Flight Nevada, as Veteran Supporter of the Month.
“These two gentlemen honored today are the epitome of men who dedicated themselves for serving our veterans,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a ceremony at the State Archives and Library Building. “We knew in 2011 there were — what I like to call the angels amongst us — when veterans come up and serve their country, and they are willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. Once they end their service, they continue to serve.”
Charley Smith, a longtime friend who has worked with Spencer on a number of projects, told the assembled crowd numbering more than 100 about Spencer’s accomplishments and how he has a strong desire to help veterans. When Spencer addressed the audience after receiving his certificate and coin from the NDVS, loud applause broke out and many Vietnam veterans gave him a standing ovation.
“I was really surprised I was selected,” Spencer said. “It’s been a real honor.”
Spencer, who was re-elected as president of Chapter 388 of the Vietnam Veterans Association in Carson City, has been involved in a number of activities promoting veteran issues. He has been involved with Honor Flight Nevada, the United Veterans Legislative Council that supported and then reaped the benefits of their hard work with the passage of 25 bills by the Legislature for active-duty military and veterans, Veterans and Military Day at the Nevada Legislature in 2018, the groundbreaking ceremony planning for the new Northern Nevada State Veterans Home in Reno, Vietnam veterans’ events in Carson City and helping to bring in a replica of the Vietnam Wall to Minden and participating in Memorial Day events at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
One year ago, Chapter 388 sponsored the Take Me Home Huey, a traveling multi-media project. The Light Horse Legacy with its traveling Huey helicopter, a colorful ambassador from the Vietnam War, focuses on veterans who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other afflictions and are looking for a way to reach out for information or help. Spencer said the Take Me Home Huey documentary, which was shown in Carson City, received an Emmy for arts at the 70th Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards on July 28.
Spencer said the Huey helicopter crews would help out his company if the men came under fire. Fighting, according to Spencer, was difficult for his company as soldiers constantly looked out for both the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.
Jon Yuspa, founder and chief executive officer of Honor Flight Nevada, said he has known Spencer for many years since they worked on the Vietnam Project, a program designed to have more Vietnam veterans fly to the nation’s capital as part of a flight specifically arranged for them.
“Tom actually deferred going on that first trip (with the Vietnam veterans) because he gave his seat to another vet,” Yuspa said, adding Spencer eventually took another Honor Flight.
Sandoval said he was humbled after looking at Spencer’s achievements and equally in awe in learning of Forbus’ support.
“We recognize so many people who didn’t serve in the military but are doing this for our veterans,” Sandoval said of Forbus, who spent 30 years in law enforcement and eventually retired as a lieutenant with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
Forbus, who has been involved with Honor Flight Nevada for more than five years, first became interested with the organization after attending a fundraiser supporting the program.
The Reno resident was hooked.
“So I got involved and went on my first Honor Flight in 2014 as a guardian,” Forbus said. “I helped push a couple of veterans in wheelchairs.”
Since his first trip, Forbus said his inspiration came from helping veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam see the memorials and monuments built in their honor in Washington, D.C. The entire trip including air, meals, accommodations and travel to the memorials is free to the participating veterans.
Forbus assists Honor Flight Nevada by volunteering numerous hours and by dedicating a portion of his real estate commission from KRCH Realty to Honor Flight. According to the NDVS, Forbus not only visits and assists veterans at their homes but also transports them to local events.
“He’ll do anything we ask of him,” Yuspa said, even joking about making the infamous 3 in the morning telephone call for help. “Jim has sponsored a total of two Honor Flights.”
Yuspa added Forbus plans to sponsor another Honor Flight this fall through Jim 4 Heroes.