WASHINGTON, D.C. (WHAS11) - They served our country selflessly, but many veterans never got they homecoming they deserved. The Honor Flight program is changing that one mission at a time. Wednesday, it sent nearly a hundred local veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.
The trip was made up of about half WWII veterans, half Korean War veterans, and several Vietnam War veterans. The whole day was such an incredible experience, from beginning to end.
Honor Flight is an opportunity the veterans earned decades ago with their service and sacrifice. The entire trip is paid for by generous donations from the community.
Wednesday’s mission started bright and early with everyone meeting at the Louisville Airport. After everyone checked in, they boarded a full flight chartered just for them. From the patriotic decorations to the Ladies of Liberty singers serenading them, the plane flew them forward while also bringing them back to their past. With so much in common, friendships came naturally. Veterans who had never met before quickly bonded over their time in the service.
The plane landed to a water gun salute, with the gestures of gratitude continuing inside the terminal. Travelers stopped everything to stand at the gate and say thank you to the veterans.
Four full buses were led through the nation’s capital by a police escort all day long. The itinerary started at Arlington National Cemetery, with four of the veterans chosen to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a surprise honor for everyone, including WWII veteran Jane Skillen who served as an Air Force nurse for two years.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s not something that you can express. It just goes to the core of your heart to know that there’s someone there that we don’t know who it is, and we don’t know his name,” Skillen said.
There were surprises in store around every bend. A group of complete strangers saluted their service as they left Arlington. It didn’t matter that they’d never met before because no American is a stranger to freedom.
On this trip, there was a stop special to every veteran. The Women's Memorial commemorated the heroes often overlooked. The recognition continued all afternoon, despite their humility.
“I don’t think I’m a hero. It’s true. I don’t feel that way. I was in the right place at the right time,” veteran Martin Steiner said.
Steiner, a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, was deeply moved by the memorial dedicated to his first round of war.
“They hear about it. They must see it in pictures, but they’ve got to be here to really appreciate what it’s all about,” Steiner said.
The next two stops at the Korean and Vietnam Memorials made up for lost time.
“It’s a dream come true,” veteran Charles Turner said.
Both were full of symbols of gratitude to so many never thanked before.
“I can’t help but think about a lot of the young boys that were my age at that time that are not here with us today to enjoy this. That sacrifice, any of us would do it, but some of us were fortunate that we came home. We’ve got to always remember those that didn’t and their families and pray for them,” Turner said.
Back at Reagan Airport, the veterans continued to share stories, reliving the past and treasuring the present.
Landing in Louisville held one final surprise, the homecoming they always deserved but not everyone got. The veterans were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of family, friends, and strangers simply wanting to say thank you. It's a day these veterans earned decades ago. It’s a debt that will never truly be paid, but one that should always be remembered.
Honor Flight Bluegrass has one more trip this year on October 14. If you'd like to volunteer on the ground crew or as a guardian, click here.