Departure – October 17
By the time I arrived at the Tucson Airport at 5:05 a.m. on Saturday, October 17, the 25 veterans had already been checked in and were sitting down talking to their well-wishers and getting to know their fellow travelers. The check-in time for the veterans was actually 6:00 a.m. but apparently they were so anxious to start their three day excursion they arrived early.
This was Honor Flight No. 19 – a three day all-expense paid trip to tour the Washington, D.C. military memorials. Some are in wheelchairs and others use walkers. Whatever their mode they will visit each memorial. They will be given a guided tour at each site. Each veteran has a Guardian whose duty is to make sure the veteran does not have any problems getting around and to assist them in any way necessary. Some of the Guardians are sons or daughters of the veterans they accompany; a real honor for each of them.
As they waited to board their flight, they enjoyed fruits, juices, coffee and sweet rolls. Several Davis Monthan airmen kept them company as they waited to board their flight. Other family members and friends were also there to see them off on their trip of a lifetime. This was the end of a process that began with their registering with Honor Flight, a nation-wide program to say, “Thank you for your service.”
After a DM Honor Guard posted the Colors and the National Anthem was sung by a DM airman, a contingent of Arizona Rangers led the veterans and their Guardians past Motorcycle Honor Guard members with their individual flags through the terminal to the departure area. Their way was lined by dozens of flag waving, cheering well-wishers.
Return – October 19
The first thing I heard as I left the parking lot at the Tucson Airport was nice music and it wasn’t Muzak. When I got to the arrivals area I saw that the music was being performed by a small jazz band called the Cannon Ball Combo from Ft. Huachuca. At about 7:30 p.m. the welcoming crowd is beginning to arrive but by the time the veterans deplaned, the crowd numbered, at the very least, a couple of hundred. While waiting for their arrival I moved around to see who was there. To name just a few of the organizations were a dozen or more members of Jr. ROTC cadets from Cienega High School; Girl Scout Troops 177 and 2981; the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association 32-2; several soldiers from Ft. Huachuca and their Commanding Officer Major General Berrier; members of the Marine Corps League of Tucson; the Motorcycle Color Guard; several veterans groups from Tucson and members of the Ironwood Ridge High School Veterans Heritage Project (check them out at: www.VeteransHeritage.org).
After the veterans deplaned, Jr. ROTC cadets escorted them through the flag waving cheering crowd to their waiting family members and friends. Several homemade signs said “Welcome home Dad” or “Grandpa” or just said “Welcome Home” or “Thank you for your service.” I know the large cheering crowd was a complete surprise to the returning veterans, some of whom teared up by the reception. It was a well-deserved Thank You celebration.
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid.
They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” President Harry S. Truman
Acknowledgement for Honor Flight No. 19
American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132
USAWOA – Arizona Silver Chapter (Sierra Vista)
Twilight Wish Foundation
Helping make this flight possible:
Tucson Airport Authority (employee donations)
Fry’s Community Rewards Program
AT&T Employee Giving Campaign
For information on Honor Flight, go to www.honorflightsaz.org.