We were stopped everywhere we went.
Tourists, students, and teachers.
Senators, security officers, and national park rangers.
Active servicemen and women, volunteers, and civilians.
With handshakes, hugs, and even photos, everyone expressed his gratitude to our veterans for their service to our country.
It was deemed as one of the best days of their lives. It wasn’t a short day, as it was non-stop 24 hours of honoring our veterans.
Wednesday morning began like no other, meeting at 2:00 am at Mid-American Coaches for the bus ride to the airport. Once the veterans and the escorts (called guardians) were loaded onto the bus, we headed out with our Missouri State Trooper escort.
It’s 2:30 am, and we are loaded on the bus to head to the airport. I was the guardian for my great-uncle who served in the Korean War.
This was the first of many special escorts we would have.
We were dropped off at Terminal 2 for our Southwest Airlines flight and were immediately greeted by the USO with coffee.
Airport security opened up a special section just for our veterans, making sure our trip started off smoothly.
Note: there are many photos in this post, and it may take a little bit for all of them to load. Please be patient so you can see and read about the entire experience.
I’ll let the photos tell you most of the story now:
On board and getting ready to leave St. Louis.
Sunrise from the sky.
Our flight was greeted with a water salute at the Baltimore airport.
Arrival at Baltimore. The entire gate area had stopped to cheer for the veterans as they came off the plane.
The veterans were thrilled to be greeted with such honor.
Students stopped us to thank the vets at the World War II Memorial.
My great-uncle and I in front of the World War II Memorial Pacific entrance.
The Freedom Wall has 4,000 sculpted gold stars on it, and each star represents 100 lives lost in the war.
It was a prefect day in Washington DC. Our group of veterans were being assembled for a group photo with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.
Our group of veterans from Missouri.
Next we walked down the mall to see the Lincoln Memorial. All veterans were encouraged to take pictures of their experience.
My great-uncle and I at the Lincoln Memorial.
We also visited the memorials for the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Our group had a few extra minutes on our way to Arlington Cemetery, so we stopped briefly at the Air Force Memorial.
At Arlington Cemetery, our veterans were given a special escort directly to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the changing of the guard.
They had a special area roped off, right in front, just for the veterans so they could easily see the entire ceremony.
The next stop was the Pentagon, where a student group asked for the opportunity to thank each and every veteran.
On the Pentagon building, you can see the difference in color of the stone. The newer stone is where the airplane had hit on 9/11.
After a full day of touring the many memorials in Washington DC, the Honor Flight had a very special mail call for the veterans during the flight home.
Back in St. Louis, Terminal 2 was turned into a homecoming party, complete with a walk through Flag Row.
My great-aunt was right in front, waiting for her husband, kissing him the second he was near enough. They will be married for 60 years in September.
Two of my sons held flags for the Flag Walk and then standing proudly during the welcome home ceremony.
Each veteran was awarded a plaque, a certificate, and a group photo from the day.
Although my great-uncle was exhausted after nearly 24 hours, he made sure he had the energy to stand to receive this honor.
On the bus ride home, the group was again escorted by the Missouri State Troopers. And along the way, the Freedom Riders joined the entourage, clearing the way for the bus to make sure our precious veterans made it home safely.
We did not stop at a single red light all the way back to Washington, Missouri.
If you are a veteran, or you know one in the area, who would like to see your memorials in Washington DC, do not hesitate to submit an application for this amazing trip. There is no cost to you.
The Franklin County Honor Flight is run completely on donations from individuals and businesses. To contribute to this wonderful program, you can donate online here.