Honor Flight #23 – Labor of Love

The adventure begins.

The adventure begins.

Jerry Lujan

Honor Flight No. 23 departed Tucson International Airport at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 2. On board the chartered Southwest flight were 67 military veterans, many with wheelchairs, and their Guardians, of which 20 were University of Arizona students whom themselves were veterans. They were accompanied by six Honor Flight volunteers who would be their guides throughout the three day trip, which is absolutely free. (Go to honorflight.org to learn how the Honor Flight program first began in one city and how it has grown to 133 cities nationwide.)

When they arrived at the terminal the veterans were met curbside and passed through a line of Patriot Guard Riders (motorcyclists from different motorcycle clubs) each holding an American flag. Once in the terminal the veterans met their Guardians who would be with them all through the trip. They were then processed military fashion (single file) to obtain their boarding pass then to the desk of Homeland Security to have their passes checked. Finally they moved on to an area where their family members were waiting and where coffee, orange juice, sweet rolls and fruit were available. A large number of Airmen from Davis Monthan Air Force Base, as well as other family members and friends, were also there to see them off. One group of youngsters had American flags painted on their faces.

Dan Maries of KOLD 13 was the Master of Ceremonies and introduced each veteran and his/her branch of service. Included among those veterans introduced was SaddleBrooke resident, Art Walsh, USAF.

After the introductions the National Anthem was sung by a Davis Monthan Airman. So many, if not all the veterans and guests, sang along as well. It was goose bump time as all those senior citizens sang the words, so many more than professional athletes who seldom even mouth the words. Afterwards the veterans, led by Arizona Rangers, moved through security and into the departure gate area before boarding the flight of their lifetime.

This is a breakdown of the veterans and where they served: WWII – 23; Korea – 27; WWII/Korea – 3; Korea/Vietnam 10; WWII/Korea/Vietnam – 4. These are the services in which they served: Army, Marines and Navy. Air Force, Army Air Corps and Coast Guard. Many served in more than one service: Army/Air Force, Navy/Army, Navy/Marines/Air Force, Army Air Corp/Air Force. One veteran served in the Army Air Corps and the Army and completed 23 years of service in the Air Force.

On Labor Day, at about 5:00 p.m., a Southwest chartered flight carrying Honor Flight No. 23 returned to Tucson. On board were 67 very tired but very pleased/happy/appreciative military veterans and their Guardians. As they entered the terminal to meet their families and friends, they passed through throngs of welcomers, some carrying Welcome Home signs and waving flags. Among them were Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, along with other organizations, (to name just a few – American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132, Desert Sharks Parrot Head Club, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, Academy of Tucson Middle School and American Legion Riders Post 36) who shook hands with the returning veterans and welcomed them back and thanked them for their service. All of the returning veterans had huge smiles on their faces, having just experienced an event that they thought they would never experience. For the WWII veterans it was a Welcome Home they never received when the war was over. For many of them it was closure for an experience they had kept bottled up for years. It was indeed finally a Welcome Home greeting well deserved. A surprise to all the veterans was mail-call on the way home. Each veteran was given a large envelope containing letters from family members, friends, school children and businesses, all thanking the veteran for his service to our country.

Helping to make this flight possible: Allstate Giving Campaign, Fry’s Community Rewards Program, Tucson Airport Authority (employee donations), Old Pueblo Gymnastics Academy, Operation Race for Vets, Alpha Chi Chapter 5372, The Women of Quail Creek, Cochise Stronghold Lions Foundation, U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association, Tucson Subaru, Reproductions Inc. and Trust Fund Distribution (employee donations).

The Honor Flight program sends military veterans to Washington, D.C. on a free three day trip to visit their memorials and monuments. For information go to honorflightsaz.org.