BEAR CREEK TWP. — Ed Zimmerman thought he’d have to spend the night in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after 48 sleepless hours because he couldn’t get a flight home the night of June 12.
But thanks to Facebook and a friendly face from home, the Bear Creek Township man who was returning from an MIA search in Vietnam flew out of Chicago that night. And he received the welcome home he hadn’t received the first time he’d returned from Southeast Asia.
Walter Tylutke Jr. of Dupont happened to be at the airport at the same time as Zimmerman, returning from Montana where he was working with a railroad company, Zimmerman said.
Because Tylutke is Facebook friends with Zimmerman’s daughter, Leah O’Boyle, who lives in Avoca, he happened to see her postings about her father being stranded at the airport.
Zimmerman, 65, was in Vietnam for two weeks, helping a government search team locate the spot he believes holds the remains of two Marines who died in the 1968 fighting at Khe Sanh.
He lost his connecting flight from Chicago to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport when it was canceled due to bad weather. He had a ticket for a flight the next day to the Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, but that would have required someone to pick him up.
His family, including his wife, three daughters and several grandchildren, along with friends and a few veterans, were waiting at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport that evening, expecting him to fly in, when he called about the delay.
Attempts to reach Tylutke, who works in Montana, for this story were unsuccessful, but Zimmerman recalled the encounter.
“I’m 48 hours without sleep,” Zimmerman said.
His daughter wrote that her father was stuck at the airport.
Tylutke wrote, ” ‘I think I’m standing next to him. Does he have a tan Marine hat on?’ ” Zimmerman said.
Leah wrote that he did, and Tylutke approached Zimmerman and introduced himself.
“He was in Montana and was coming home for his birthday party,” Zimmerman said.
Tylutke offered to swap the ticket he had for a flight that night to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in exchange for Zimmerman’s ticket to Allentown.
“He said, ‘Thanks for fighting for our country,’” Zimmerman recalled Tylutke telling him.
Zimmerman said he would want Tylutke next to him in a foxhole anytime. He said the younger man helped him get home to his family earlier.
“It was a welcome home, you know, you never had,” said the Vietnam veteran.