Honor Flight A Trip of a Lifetime

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Hundreds of veterans, part of the biggest Honor Flight in history, are back at home in the Heartland with a new round of memories bestowed for their service.

Three planeloads of honorees, some 450 in all, made the trip to Washington D.C. on Tuesday and touched down at Eppley early Wednesday morning.

Alice Canerday met them with heartfelt greetings on their arrival in D.C.

"Thank you for service,” she said. “Great country you gave us. Thank you.

"Look at this handsome man coming through. Awwww, there's a hero."

Alice renewed the greetings with each veteran stepping off the plane at Dulles. There were kisses and hugs along with kind words.

Vets Greeted

"Hi, handsome,” she told another. “Welcome to D.C. Good to see you."

Ted Teague, among the honorees, said, “This makes you glad that you're an American.”

The walk through the airport to the bus was lined with strangers offering words of kindness; expressions of thanks.

"Brought tears to my eyes," one veteran said.

Earl Baldwin struggled for words but found these: “It's the most terrific greeting I've ever had. Wonderful."

All this preceded the trip to the memorials.

Alice Canerday says she does this for the veterans and she’s done this 50 times.

"I'm so appreciative of all they've done for our country. I just want to make sure everyone knows that we won't forget them,” she said. "They often say that no one's ever thanked me before. Or that no one has hugged me in three years. It breaks your heart to know that but it's nice to know I can bring a little bit of happiness."

The first stop of the honorees was the Korean War Memorial that many of them had never seen.

Korean War Memorial

Seward’s Max Propst said, "It's a once in the lifetime chance and I'll never be able to do it again."

Probst had never been to Washington, let alone the Memorial.

The 19 stainless steel statues are the centerpiece symbolizing the message that freedom is not free. The United States saw more than 36,000 casualties.

"We wouldn't be here today if not for what those guys sacrificed 60-years ago," Max said.

The tour also included the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Bill Johnson said, "This has been a grand experience. I'll never forget it."

He made a special trip to the Vietnam Wall. “My brother was killed in Vietnam in 1968,” he said. Bill placed a personal note and a story from People Magazine, his brother’s name was in a photo.

"Even though he's buried in our family plot, I find I connect with him more at the Memorial than anyplace, Bill said. “It's the most solemn place and I just feel so close to him there."

For many of the Korean War vets, the 2014 honor flight filled a void.

Norfolk’s Virgil Rohlff said, “When we came back from the service, a guy came up and said, 'Where have you been?' He didn't even know we was in Korea."

Norm Elvig of Omaha told us, “I was on a ship and docked and as we went out the gate. They were spitting on us ‘cause they knew where we were coming from."

Sixty years later, it was a different homecoming.

The snow that fell on hundreds of heroes Tuesday didn’t faze them. William Fisher, of Cook, Nebraska, said it felt like war all over again.

"I left the day after Thanksgiving in 1953,” he said. “It was 20-below zero and 60-mile-an-hour winds - snow and rain and just bitter cold."

A Lt. Colonel from the Embassy of Korea joined the Nebraska veterans and said, “We appreciate the fact that you remember."

Many admitted the experience overwhelmed them.

Fisher said, "I've kept this in my head for 60 years and this is the first time I've ever shed a tear over this. Unbelievable. I've always wondered why it's the old guys that cry and now I know."

The veterans knew there'd be these moments. It's why they wanted family along.

Ruben Kavan of Morse Bluff said, "I make my daughters work all the time," and the three of them were along for the trip.

Deeann Souza said, “He's talked about it and he's finally got to see it. Mom came seven years ago to see it. I'm sure she's happy. It's his turn to see it.”

Three generations of Matusek's soaked it all in together. The younger ones drove to D.C. from North Carolina.

“I’m very humbled,” Omaha’s Ted Teague told us. It was the same thought that came to each veteran with whom we spoke.

The veterans said this was a day they could not have imagined - from the ominous drive through Arlington Cemetery to the breathtaking Medal of Honor ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns; the daunting list of names on the Vietnam Wall and their own humbling medal presentation at the Korean War memorial.

Each of the veterans received a medal made from barbed wire that lined the 38th parallel that separated North Korea from South Korea.

It was an overpowering moment for Bill Lawless who said, “My heart is about that big."

The last time Papillion’s Lindsay Colwell was here was on a hot July day 19 years ago for the memorial dedication.

"My grandfather was guest of honor,” she said. “He led Task Force Smith which were the first ground troops into Korea."

The siblings were the first to ever throw a coin in the pool of remembrance.

Lindsay said, “If you ask him, he'll say his landed first. But I'll tell you mine landed first.

"It is the forgotten war and we're trying to make it forgotten no more."


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