The 6th Never Forgotten Honor Flight returned home to Central Wisconsin Monday night.
Veterans returned home from the flight to an unbelievable reception at the Central Wisconsin Airport. It was the biggest welcome home celebration yet, with fireworks and hundreds of people waving flags in the lobby. The vets hugged and handshaked their way through the sea of people, who thanked them for their service.
Making the whole trip possible was Mid-Wisconsin Bank. The company raised $75 thousand, enough to send all 85 veterans to D.C.
Veterans started at the WWII Memorial, built in their honor, and continued throughout town visiting other war and service memorials, and caught a Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
Every veteran said they were overwhelmed by the opportunity to go on this trip of a lifetime.
WWII Army veteran Dick Brooker, from Merrill, was amazed when he first spotted the memorial in D.C., and seeing it brought back decades old memories. Decades after his service in the war, Dick is thankful to have the chance to take this once in a lifetime trip.
"It was really wonderful, I enjoyed it very much all of it so far," says Dick.
Arlene Jordan was one of just two women on Monday's flight. But despite being one of the few women who served during WWII, Arlene says it's more rare to have been part of the Coast Guard.
"I suppose we are in the minority but I don't feel that way there's a lot of women that have been in the service," says Arlene.
Each veteran is accompanied by a guardian who helps them through the day, and for some it's an opportunity to get closer to loved ones. Many Honor Flight guardians are sons or daughters of the veterans. Organizers say that special family bond helps make the experience more sentimental and more rewarding.
"That line of communication opens up somewhat. Some of the stories that haven't been told for 65, 70 years are now being told," says Never Forgotten Co-Chair Mike Thompson.
For Merrill native and WWII Navy veteran Norm Skare, his trip to the WWII memorial was an emotional one. Thanks to his son Ray, Norm had a devoted helping hand throughout the day.
"I'm just really honored to be a part of this process and being selected to accompany him on this," says Ray.
Another highlight and big surprise for the veterans, was on the flight home. The Honor Flight's version of "Mail Call," each veteran was given an envelope full of letters from their family, friends, and people they don't even know. Throughout the year, Honor Flight staff collect cards and notes from schools and groups looking to thank the veterans. It's an unexpected and unbelievable gift for those who have given our country so much.
Click here for more information about the Never Forgotten Honor Flight program.