Fifty-two World War II veterans and 29 Korean War veterans are counting the days until Sept. 10, when they take their highly anticipated Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., for a day dedicated to honor them and to visit and reflect at the memorials built to commemorate their service and sacrifices.
This Honor Flight is the third of four regularly scheduled trips to Washington, D.C., per year by Southeast Florida Honor Flight. The trip takes local veterans on the experience of a lifetime. Upon touchdown back home they will be welcomed at Palm Beach International Airport by residents to cheer and thank them.
During WWII, 16 million Americans served their nation. Today, the number still living stands at less than a million. There are more WWII veterans living in Florida than any other state, according to Veterans Administration data. Southeast Florida Honor Flight will continue honoring these veterans when most other states’ Honor Flight hubs have finished flying their WWII veterans and have moved on to flying Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
The Sept. 10 Honor Flight will begin before dawn with about 80 veterans and 80 guardians arriving at Palm Beach International Airport at about 4:30 a.m. to board a chartered American Airlines Airbus. The contingent arrives at Reagan National Airport to a welcoming concourse of fanfare and citizens extending their gratitude to the arriving veterans. With a police escort throughout the day, four motor coaches will transport the group to visit the U.S. Marine Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington National Cemetery for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.
The flight is scheduled to return to West Palm Beach at 8:20 p.m., when Operation Welcome Home begins. The procession of veterans will be welcomed home by hundreds of people from the local community, including members of the military, community and civic groups, family and friends. The crowd gathers at the airport to await the veterans’ arrival and give them a true welcome home that many never received more than 70 years ago.
The public is encouraged to attend the homecoming, with signs of thanks or flags or simply with cheers. The Operation Welcome Home event congregates at Palm Beach International Airport, Level 2, Concourse A/B. Early arrival is recommended. For more information on Operation Welcome Home, call (855) 359-2838.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight, along with 133 other hubs in the nationwide network, is dedicated to flying America’s veterans to memorials in Washington, D.C., free of charge to the veteran. With America’s WWII veterans now in their later years of life, predominantly in their 90s, Honor Flight is in a race against time to honor these veterans by bringing them to see their memorials, especially the WWII memorial, which was not completed until 2004. The last Honor Flight of 2016 is set for Saturday, Oct. 8.
For the veterans, it is a day of reflection on those heroes who never came home, connecting with fellow military compatriots, reminding them that America has not forgotten them. For others, it is to thank these courageous men and women for stepping up when the world needed them. For info., visit www.honorflightsefl.org.
ABOVE: Honor Flight veterans at the World War II Memorial.