Tim and one other UA student were awarded the grant. On the flight of 25 veterans, Tim was assigned to a Korean veteran. We had him and his wife over for dinner to get to know them better before the trip and this former Korean soldier is completely endearing! He is the stereotypical cute, old man =). A smile never left his face in the three separate occasions I had the opportunity to interact with him.
On the morning of the Honor Flight, hundreds gathered to send off the veterans in the fashion they should have received 60-70 years ago. Soldiers from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, motorcycle club members, retired sheriffs, JROTC members, and friends and family surrounded the veterans in celebration as they ate breakfast. Then, we created a parade like environment to send them off as they headed through airport security. It moved most to tears as we watched these elderly men, who honorably served our country, about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
The trip to Washington D.C. was very brief; the guardians and veterans left on a Saturday morning and returned the following Monday evening. During their time in our nation's capital they visited many of the memorials, had a formal dinner, and received a bag of letters (from their friends, family, guardian, and school children) on the return flight. I can only imagine how special the entire experience must have been for these men!
When the Honor Flight returned home, approximately 500 people greeted them with music, cheers, applause, signs, handshakes, and hugs. It was one of the most beautiful events I've ever been a part of in my life! You could see, and yet only fathom, the emotion behind the eyes of these worthy and heroic veterans. It was an evening to remember! Poor Tim missed all of it because he had to stay back in D.C. with a stomach virus. I told Tim I would capture the homecoming on camera for him to see when he arrived back home. My phone battery died right before they proceeded in, but luckily I was able to use my mother-in-law's phone to film. Here's a few minutes of the homecoming ceremony on video; the very end of this clip shows Tim's veteran greeting his family--so sweet!
The Honor Flight organization is absolutely amazing and caters to every need and whim of our most precious veterans. The whole experience is completely free for these heroes! As our WWII veterans pass, they will start serving more Korean veterans, and then eventually move to Vietnam veterans (what an experience it will be for those men and women!). Tim has been deployed twice to Afghanistan and I hope this program is still around when it is time for him to see the Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial.