OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- Bill Williams has made friends and memories while honoring those who serve -- from remembering our fallen in Nebraska and western Iowa and the Gold Star Kids left behind after the tragedies of war to traveling with our Korea and World War II veterans to see the memorials in Washington DC. But over the years, certain requests had been weighing on him and his wife.
"A guy stopped and said he had a friend who suffered from Agent Orange and he just wants to know if you and Evonne would consider it," said Bill Williams of Patriotic Productions.
They did more than consider it. This June, like veterans before them, organizers will load three planes with 500 Nebraska and Iowa combat veterans from the Vietnam War.
Williams said, "Everyone realizes that Vietnam veterans were not as well-received when they came home. So this is an opportunity for people to step up and honor their service. These veterans are roughly 70 years old. When we took the World War II veterans, the average age was 85."
Some Vietnam veterans were so eager to turn in their application that they skipped the email response and hand-delivered it to Williams' home. "In about a half-dozen cases, they have driven to the house, knocked on the door, and handed it to me because they wanted to make sure we don't lose it."
"That tells you a lot. There's a lot of interest in this."
Here's the running total so far for Bill Williams: 2,100 Nebraska veterans on nine flights have already taken the plane ride to the memorials in Washington D.C. over the years. The June trip will be the first time many veterans will see the Vietnam Wall and the 58,000 names etched into it.
"There are a number who say this is something they've always wanted to do," said Williams. "It's therapeutic as well. We had a wife tell us about their husband who had nightmares for decades from the Korean War. When he got back, he somehow was able to psychologically put it away and is fine now, but he had to suffer all those decades."
It's expected that thousands will also line the airports to say "thank you," something completely different from when they first came home from war.
Planes for Operation Airlift are almost entirely paid for thanks to $300,000 in generous donations. The organizing non-profit still has other expenses to cover for the once-in-a-lifetime trip. Click here for more information on Patriotic Products, including how to donate.