Earl Morse may have cried, too, had he been at Toledo Airport late Tuesday night as the 70 or so World War II and Korean War vets slowly disembarked from the jet from Washington.
They were exhausted from a whirlwind Honor Flight tour of war memorials and cemeteries. But if they were tired, they didn’t show it when they entered the hangar packed with clapping, flag-waving, cheering family members and friends, amidst a backdrop of patriotic music.
They looked surprised, but proud. They smiled, saluted, shook hands and hugged those they knew, and didn’t know. And there were tears.
How could a vet not get emotional to that kind of reception?
Many had returned after their war decades ago to little fanfare.
Tuesday, on the other hand, was their moment to reflect and to be appreciated for their service. It was a chance to be reacquainted with old friends, meet new ones, and talk about the war again, if they wanted.
If they did, they had attentive, appreciative audiences wherever they went.
It was the fourth time Flag City Honor Flight, established in 2010 as part of the nonprofit National Honor Flight Network, had rolled out the red carpet for veterans, many of whom otherwise would not get to visit the very memorials built in their honor.
While Honor Flights have flown more than 100,000 vets nationwide since May 2005, the soldiers of World War II are said to be dying at a rate of more than 600 per day.
Fortunately, Morse, who was working at an outpatient clinic for veterans in Chillicothe back in 2004, and still works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, recognized that time was of the essence when he created the Honor Flight Network to provide transportation to the capital for World War II and Korean veterans free of charge.
Begun as a one-time trip, Morse enlisted the help of pilots and sponsors, and more trips to the memorials resulted. Word of the good work spread across the country and other chapters were started, including Hancock County’s.
A day like Tuesday, of course, doesn’t just happen.
It involves a large and dedicated core of Honor Flight supporters and volunteers. They spend hours working out logistics, raising money and handling other details to make sure the needs of every vet is met once the big day arrives.
We can never thank vets enough for the service they provided us, and a program like Honor Flight is worth its weight in gold because it can add an exclamation point to a vet’s life and teach younger generations valuable lessons.
But we must also salute the people who make it all possible, the Flag City Honor Flight volunteers, guardians, and sponsors for going above and beyond to give vets a day most will never forget. Their service is appreciated, too.
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