In the wee morning hours on Saturday, Nov. 19, fire-rescue and law enforcement personnel from both Palm Beach and Martin counties will be escorting and displaying honorary salutes to the World War II and Korean War veterans on board buses headed to Palm Beach International Airport.
Few will see this early-morning tribute, but for those it is meant, the veterans on board, it will have the desired effect. It begins a day of honor for these veterans flying to Washington, D.C., on their Honor Flight.
From the southern rally point in Palm Beach County, the tribute begins at 4800 Linton Blvd. and Military Trail in Delray Beach at 4 a.m. The veterans will not only receive a six-unit motorcycle police, patrol car and fire engine escort, but also salutes of honor from uniformed fire-rescue personnel standing at attention in nine locations on I-95 overpasses along the bus route to Palm Beach International Airport. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, Delray Beach Fire-Rescue, Boynton Beach Fire-Rescue, the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Lantana Police Department will contribute to the display of respect.
Due to the large number of Palm Beach County veterans on Honor Flights, a bus was organized this year to accommodate their early morning transport. Southeast Florida Honor Flight is proud to have the support of Honor Flight volunteer Samuel Eaton, also a Battalion Chief for PBCFR, who has coordinated the tribute efforts.
“Having been on 10 previous flights, I have seen how these men and women get very emotional at the outpouring of support and long-due appreciation for their willingness to risk all for America and the free world,” Eaton said. “Many of them have no clue how much America remembers and appreciates what they did. When they see it openly displayed as we’re about to do, it has a profound and lasting impact that they speak of for years later.”
A similar display will take place at the northern rally point in Martin County when veterans board a bus at the Martin County Administration Building in Stuart. “Martin County’s public safety community has been wonderful to our Honor Flight veterans for many years,” said Todd Tucker, chairman of Southeast Florida Honor Flight and a Martin County Fire-Rescue lieutenant. “The veterans are often in tears before they even get to the airport.”
The Honor Flight veterans will receive the same fire-rescue and police tribute escort and route-lined salute for their ride home to conclude their journey around 9:30 p.m. on the evening of Nov. 19.
The veterans aboard Saturday morning’s bus rides will join other veterans meeting at PBIA and will be flown 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 fourth of four regularly scheduled trips to Washington, D.C., each year by Southeast Florida Honor Flight.
In Honor Flight tradition, the public is invited and encouraged to attend “Operation Homecoming” at Palm Beach International Airport to welcome home the veterans from their day of honor with signs of thanks, flags and cheers. The return flight will arrive an hour earlier than most flights, touching down at PBIA at 7:20 p.m.
Many veterans never received a thank you for their service after the wars, especially the Korean and Vietnam War veterans. This is a special opportunity to cheer, shake hands with and thank these men and women who served the nation.
Operation Homecoming is always an emotional event for both the veterans and the crowd. Hundreds of people from the local community, including members of the military, community and civic groups, family and friends, gather in the airport, awaiting the veterans’ arrival to give them a true welcome home. The community is invited to join in. Operation Homecoming takes place at Palm Beach International Airport, Level 2, Concourse A/B. Early arrival is recommended.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight, along with the 133 other hubs in the nationwide Honor Flight Network, is dedicated to flying America’s veterans to their respective memorials in Washington, D.C., free of charge to the veteran. With America’s WWII veterans now in their later years of life, Honor Flight is truly 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 next Southeast Florida Honor Flight will be April 8, 2017.
Honor Flight is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for their service and sacrifices. For more information, to get involved, donate or shop the Honor Flight store, visit www.honorflightsefl.org or www.facebook.com/honor flight, or call (855) 359-2838.