- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico Republican who is attempting a solo flight around the world to honor U.S. veterans killed in wars said Friday the experience has reminded him of the poverty and shared humanity in the world.

In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, said the trip brought back memories of his time as a combat pilot in the Vietnam War.

Pearce, who has taken a break from the trip and is temporarily back in Washington, D.C., said the experience so far has been stunning.

“As I left Jakarta … I got to remembering the night missions we’d fly out of there,” said Pearce, 68, who has nearly completed the round-the-world expedition in a plane the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. “The memories did come flooding back.”

As he approached Vietnam and Thailand, the trip became emotional, he said. Pearce flew more than 518 hours of combat flight and 77 hours of combat support during the Vietnam War.

For unknown reasons at the last minute, Vietnam declined to give Pearce permission to land in the country to lay a memorial. The congressman instead flew to Thailand and presented a memorial made by members of Isleta Pueblo, one of 19 American Indian pueblos in New Mexico.

The flight, which took three years to plan and began March 27 from Nevada, was temporarily halted in Spain after 16 days because of weather. Pearce said he has 365 days to complete the last two legs for certification.

Pearce said he flew more than 144 hours, but he didn’t listen to any of the audiobooks he brought because he was too focused on duties of the flight.

The Republican said people he met during his 22 stops around the world were generous and helpful, despite the poverty around them. That poverty, Pearce said, reminded him of the important role the U.S. plays in the world.

“The stunning response from everyone amazed me,” Pearce said. “We all have a sense of sadness for those who sacrifice for others in wars.”


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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