In what has become an annual tradition, the Kingwood Area Republican Women hosted area veterans at their November luncheon.
Several dozen attended the event held at the Walden Country Club. Each wore a special red, white and blue ribbon created by member Lanelle Johnston and they each had a moment to introduce themselves.
After a Thanksgiving-themed lunch, Capt. Mike Penn spoke about his years as a Navy fighter pilot and his subsequent time spent as a P.O.W.
Penn was flying his 75th combat mission on the east side of Hanoi. It was Aug. 6, 1972, when he encountered surface-to-air missiles “with his name written on them.” Penn tried evasive measures, but was forced to bail from the plane as it was traveling more than 500 mph. The chute, incredibly, opened at that speed and he floated to the ground. There he was met with gunfire and eventual capture by the North Vietnamese.
Penn was sent to the “Hanoi Hilton,” American slang for the infamous prison where many were taken to be tortured and punished.
Penn said he was at a low point in prison and in despair. He attributes his ability to withstand his time there to words his grandfather said as he left for war: “Mike, never, never give up.”
Penn realized he had the mental tools to endure capture and told the crowd, “You can go about a month without food and about a week without water, but you can’t go one day without hope.”
Penn also spoke about leadership and service and gave thanks and credit to all the veterans in the room.
In particular, he praised Atascocita resident John Heimburger who attended with his wife, Chris. Heimburger, Penn announced, flew more combat missions, more than 667, than any other U.S. serviceman during the Vietnam War. Chris Heimburger and family friend John Evans came dressed as Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty to entertain the guests.
Also speaking was Don Mitchell, representing Kingwood Fallen Heroes. The organization was formed in 2011 after the deaths of three Kingwood men: Brandon Bury, Bill Meeuwsen and Luke Yepsen. The Fallen Heroes group have held seven events in the last seven years and have raised $533,000 to date. They have donated the money to various veteran-related groups and have established scholarships for Kingwood High School, the alma mater of the three men. More information may be found at kingwoodfallenheroes.com.