EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – The sun has yet to rise over the runway on the fifth day of October. Some 90 men and women plus their guardians are prepared to embark on a journey to our nation’s capital for a special reunion.
The Honor Flight of Southwestern Indiana makes this annual tour, and the folks on this flight will be the 11th group to go. Soldiers and sailors of years gone are prepared to see monuments they helped create.
It may have been decades since the nervous feeling last crept in. The flame from battle was extinguished long ago for most in the terminal now.
“It’d be my first time up there,” said Virgil Higgenbottom. “They say it’s going to be fabulous.”
The retired Army veteran is going with his son, Tim. Together they have the spark to experience something special. This mission may change their life.
“I’m so appreciative that my son got to go,” he added behind a smile.
Butterflies for the unknown ahead are stirring as they have before. This journey will take less than 24 hours and leave our retired warriors with a new love for complete strangers.
“It’s an honor I got to be here with my dad and with all the other veterans,” Tim said.
They touch down in Washington to a hero’s welcome. A crowd in the airport piled around the gate, waving flags and cheering. For a lot of soldiers decades ago, scenes like this only played out in dreams.
“The greeting there in that airport was astounding,” said retired Army vet Thomas Deen. “I never seen anything like it in my life. Never thought I’d ever see it.”
Fellow Army vet Edwin Moll was equally floored. “I had a pretty good idea of what we were going to get to see, but not totally,” said Moll. “I really respect the younger generation showed so much happiness for us.”
Under police escort, four buses of veterans and their guardians own the city streets. Shuttling heroes is always busy work. The World War II Memorial opens the day in D.C.
“Oh, it was awesome,” said Deen about the trip. “I’m telling you it was unbelievable.”
Near the base of the Washington Monument obelisk, with the background of its reflecting pool, Abraham Lincoln is a picture-perfect backdrop to remember the past and present with a group photo.
There is a lot to see and only a short time to do it, so they must move methodically. Orders from the top keep them marching – and wheeling on – to the Korean War Memorial.
Most vets on these Honor Flights now are from the Korean era.
Veterans are left feeling somber but satisfied. After all these years, seeing the wall is a connection to the past and brothers they lost along the way.
The group went to the Vietnam Wall, Air Force Memorial, and saw a true symbol of America’s strength.
“I got to see the Iwo Jima Monument, which I’m really sympathetic to that monument,” Moll said. “A lot of American boys died just to be able to make that.”
Four vets join guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay a wreath in remembrance. They saw the changing of the guard and paid respects in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sacrifices remembered there are enshrined in the smiles of people back home.
“I’m tired,” said Deen after the flight back to Evansville. “My feet feel like they’ve gone flat.”
It has been a trip for the ages. Hundreds who welcome their heroes prove no one is forgotten. More flags, signs, and cheering greet the vets like never before.
“There’s good people out there in this world,” Deen said. “A day I’ll not forget for the rest of my life.”
Forged in the fires of war, there is a new bond between these men and women. Soldiers and sailors who gave their all, and Americans in the heartland who are forever in their debt.
This story was originally published on October 14, 2019