Nevada woman has had a memorable year concerning a very special veteran

Marlys Barker, Nevada Journal Editor
The casket, containing found remains of Airman 3rd Class Wayne Dean Jackson, is taken off a Delta airplane by members of the Air Force.

On this Veterans Day, which is observed nationally tomorrow, Nevada resident Vicki Dodson will have a feeling of peace in her heart.

It’s a peace that comes from knowing that her brother, Airman 3rd Class Wayne Dean Jackson, is finally home.

The Nevada Journal brought you Dodson’s story earlier this year after she received the call that finally, after 63 years of waiting, her brother’s remains had been found on Mount Gannett.

Jackson, while not biologically related to Dodson, became her older brother because of the tight bond shared by Dodson’s parents and his parents, who cared for Dodson every day at their house while her own parents worked. The Jacksons became a second family to her, and Wayne Jackson became the kind of older brother every little girl dreams of having.

Then on Nov. 22, 1952, Jackson’s life was taken — he and the others aboard a Douglas C-124-A-Globemaster II were killed when the plane crashed into Mount Gannett en route from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Ala.

Every year, the Air Force has sent a crew back to the mountain during the warm season when they are able to continue collecting remains. Last year, Jackson’s remains were among those collected, and finally this year, the dream Jackson’s mother had always had, and passed along to Dodson, could come true — her son could be laid to rest in his hometown cemetery in Downing, Mo., beside his parents’ final resting spots.

This past August, Dodson experienced the broad range of emotions that accompany such an epic undertaking.

“I can’t even put into words … when I saw him (his casket) come off (the plane), it wasn’t even real until then,” she said. “We’d talked about it for so long that it was all I could do not to run out there and put my arms on him. It was like, ‘There it is, we’ve got him.’”

The way that the Air Force accompanied Jackson’s casket on a Delta flight and how the airline had everyone aboard stay on the plane until the casket was released from the plane — it was all very impressive to Dodson, who along with her husband, her son and his wife and their children, and her daughter and her children, as well as a few of Jackson’s cousins, all got to go out on the tarmac as the casket was brought out from the plane by an Air Force crew.

“It was all so respectful,” she said. “I was told some people in the plane even stood and saluted.”

The arrival of the casket in Des Moines started several days of ceremony. First was the drive back, a long procession made spectacular because of the involvement of a group known as the Patriot Guard Riders, who escorted the family and Jackson all the way from Des Moines to Downing, Mo. The Patriot Guard also helped with many of the funeral arrangements. “Doug Yearns of the Patriot Guard — I call him my guardian angel,” Dodson said.

As they went through small towns along the drive, Dodson said people would wave and salute them. She was moved by those who saluted, some even cried as they watched them pass. “In Moulton, Iowa, the whole town came out and lined the streets and waved flags,” she said. “I put the window down and said, ‘Thank you,’ as much as I could to people.”

Another special person Dodson mentions is a guy they call “Larry the Flagman,” who shows up at events such as this and lines the roads with flags. He, with help from veterans in that area, put up 2,000 flags to line the highway for the last 10 miles of the trip to Downing. Seeing all those flags was something Dodson said she can’t even put into words.

The entire experience, in fact, was so much to take in, and everyone involved and who attended, from the ministers to Jackson’s classmates, made it a most memorable and unforgettable event.

As Dodson talks about the fascinating year that she has had, and points out various mementos that now sit in her home — the folded flag from his casket, stacks of pictures from the service, dried flowers from the funeral, dog tags, a Bible given to her by his Delta airline escort and so much more — she emphasizes that while she has gotten closure, there are still families who had relatives on that flight who continue to wait to bring their loved ones to a final resting spot.

One of those relatives is Tonja Anderson Dell, a member of the flight families’ support group C-124, who has supported every other family and who goes to most every funeral of a member from that flight. She was there when Jackson was laid to rest. “She has been doing this for years, even though she hasn’t yet gotten her own granddad home,” Dodson said. Dodson said she plans to go to the final service for Dell’s grandfather some day, and is confident that on one of these trips to the mountain, his remains will be found.

Dodson is pleased that she was able to donate many of the keepsakes, pieces of the plane, pictures of Jackson and such, to the local historical museum of Downing. One thing she gave them were all of Jackson’s Boy Scouts medals.

Dodson made donations of some of the memorial money to the Patriot Guard and to Larry the Flagman to help with the wonderful work they do on behalf of military families.

She said that as she celebrates Veterans Day this week, she will stop and think about “the men and women that are out there to protect us and put their lives on the line for us” every day.

“(Military service has) always meant a lot to me,” she said. “My dad was in the Navy, Joe (her husband) was in the Air Force. It’s special. Any time the flag goes by, it brings a tear to my eyes. That’s the way I grew up, and now, it will mean even more.”

The Nevada American Legion provides an Honor Guard at Veterans’ funerals. To continue this military honor for deceased veterans, the Legion needs more veterans to help carry on this tradition. Age or gender does not matter. The job is simple and you may choose either to hold flags or carry rifles, whichever you prefer. There is no marching, but you must be able to stand. Cold weather gear is provided, as necessary. If you can help once in awhile, please call Dave Lilland at 515-382-5122 or come to the American Legion on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. Please pass this request on to veterans in our area.