Each year, the nonprofit Honor Flight Network transports thousands of veterans (21,189 last year alone) from all over the country to Washington D.C. to celebrate their service.
Many of the seats on Honor Flights are reserved for veterans of World War II. The average age of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who fought in that war was 26 and most of the remaining World War II veterans are now in the late 80s or 90s. Just under 400,000 are still with us, with nearly 300 dying each day. Therefore, they are a priority of the Honor Flight Network. Honor flights also celebrate the sacrifices and accomplishments of veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
For each flight, veterans and their guardians (volunteers who shepherd the vets during the event) arrive at Reagan National Airport where they are greeted by clapping crowds and musicians playing celebratory songs.
Volunteer greeters plus well-wishing strangers from throughout the airport gather round to shake the veterans’ hands…
…or to offer up a kiss.
From there, the vets go on a whirlwind tour of the Nation’s Capital, with stops at Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War memorials. At the World War II memorial, vets are often greeted by former Sen. Bob Dole. Dole, himself a veteran of World War II, served as national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign, which raised funds for the memorial.
At the World War II memorial, veterans often pose at the column for their state.
It is particularly heartwarming when children spend time with the vets.
The Honor Flights are also a chance for veterans to share their stories.
Eugene Day was was an artillery man at the Battle of Porkchop Hill during the Korean War.
World War II veterans Magdalena and Elwood Martin have been married for more than 70 years. She served in the Cadet Nurse Corps, while he was in the 88th Infantry Division and was awarded three Bronze Stars.
The day is filled with joyful — and sometimes tearful — memories.
To find out more about the Honor Flight Network, go to their website.