Vet's Snoopy mascot brings Vietnam journey to life

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) For the last week, we've been sharing the deeply emotional and heartfelt stories of the 52 veterans on the Return to Vietnam Honor Flight.

Our Jeff Alexander and photojournalist Bill Kumbalek are capturing some incredible moments in Vietnam.

That includes some images that are especially meaningful for one vet who couldn't make the trip for health reasons.

When doctors discovered blood clots on Rick Chouinard's lungs shortly before the Honor Flight left, he was told to stay home.

Devastated, he asked the Old Glory folks to take Snoopy, a Christmas gift from his sister during his 1969 tour in Vietnam, in his place as the group's mascot and tour the country with it.

The veterans are doing exactly as they promised.

Jeff, Bill and Old Glory reps were able to send back pictures and video of Snoopy making the trek across Vietnam.

We printed the pictures and shared them with Rick.

"Oh awesome!" he told us, smiling as he thumbed through the pictures.

There's no doubt the pictures mean more than a thousand words.

"When she gave it to me, she never imagined that Snoopy would get around that much," says Rick, laughing, talking about the sister who gave him Snoopy. "He's like a sidekick, and to see him in all those different places is just amazing and makes me happy."

But seeing the pictures and video also evokes feelings the Navy veteran didn't fully expect.

"It's a little bit frustrating, because I really wish I was there. I really do, but also, exciting because I've seen areas that I never made it to when I was in Vietnam," he says.

Seeing how different the country looks now, and how welcomed the veterans are there, brings him happiness knowing so much has changed and improved.

But he feels a different kind of happiness seeing the veterans, like the Green Bay brothers who were brought to their knees as they went back to the place where they was fought, now overcome raw with emotion. But he sees them finding peace.

"Those brothers were crying, but at the same they, they were closing. And the rest of their life is going to be so much better, because of this trip," he says.

With his health already improving, Rick hopes one day he can experience that for himself.

"If I'm supposed to go, I will go back to Vietnam, and I will make peace with what I have to there, but until then, I am extremely happy for the 52 that went. It is just awesome that they got to go, and they're getting the closure they need," says Rick. "I congratulate them, and I honor them."