Honor Flight thanks 85 Bluegrass war veterans - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Honor Flight thanks 85 Bluegrass war veterans

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The Honor Flight Bluegrass veterans returned to Louisville on October 24. The Honor Flight Bluegrass veterans returned to Louisville on October 24.
John Stone John Stone
Rep. John Yarmuth meets with the Honor Flight Bluegrass veterans at the World War II Memorial. Rep. John Yarmuth meets with the Honor Flight Bluegrass veterans at the World War II Memorial.
John Stone has his picture taken at the World War II Memorial. John Stone has his picture taken at the World War II Memorial.
The veterans pose for a photo at the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial. The veterans pose for a photo at the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial.

WASHINGTON (WAVE) - Sounds of cheering and clapping filled the arrival terminals at Louisville International Airport as a crowd of more than 100 people awaited the return of dozens of Bluegrass troops.

As the first service members appeared, the crowd erupted in excitement. The long line of supporters, delved out handshakes, hugs and an abundance of thank you's as they welcomed home more than 80 men and women of the armed forces. Only, this group was not returning home from war - at least, not this time.

More than 16 hours earlier, the group of 85 war veterans arrived to the airport, called to duty. The mission: Operation Honor Flight Bluegrass. Their orders: make it to the nation's capital at least once in life.

"I'm a World War II Veteran," said U.S. Army Captain John Stone. "I'm 95 years old."

Stone arrived for duty adorned in his original Army dress uniform. Hailing from Bowling Green by way of Indiana, Stone was just one of 85 Commonwealth veterans taking part in an Honor Flight sponsored by the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

"We are fortunate to have the opportunity to fly to Washington. We've never been there before to see the monument," said Stone. "I'm very anxious to bring back pictures to my wife about the monument there."

Before boarding for Washington D.C., U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) met with the troops as part of a warm sendoff.

"You look like you could sign up again," said McConnell.

"No, no, no," replied Capt. Stone.

After the warm sendoff, the troops fanned out. Some were excited; others a bit anxious.

"How long has it been since you've been on a plane?" asked Ronald Moore, Stone's appointed Honor Flight Bluegrass Guardian.

"About 42 years, something like that," replied Stone.

For Stone, once in the air everything proved fine.

"It's kind of a picture to me of heaven," said Stone while looking out the airplane window. "Way, way up. I appreciate that."

Upon landing, the Honor Flight veterans received a warm welcome at the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. Airport fire trucks greeted the Miami Air International Flight 1941 with a water cannon salute, using hoses to create a water archway over the plane.

Once loaded onto four Dillon's tour buses, the veterans and their guardians traveled to their first destination - the National World War II Memorial.

"That's the war I was in, so I don't like the memories," began Stone. "Kind of depressing but rewarding {that} I feel like I had a part in {the memorial} being there."

While at the WWII Memorial, but Kentucky and Indiana congressmen paid the veterans a visit.

"They're leaving us at a rate of about a thousand a day," said Congressman John Yarmuth (R-KY). "So it's always just a thrill for me to come out just to share a little bit of their warmth and their nobility."

Indiana Congressman Todd Young (R-IN) spoke with veterans as they geared up to depart for the Korean War Memorial.

"I appreciate your service and all of those that came with you to help make this trip possible," said Congressman Young.

The group of more than 172 Honor Flight Bluegrass veterans, guardians and supporting medical staff then traveled from the Korean War Memorial to the Air Force Memorial before arriving at their final destination - the Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

There, for a few minutes, time stood still as the group of veterans posed for a group picture; a salute to their service and the nation's freedom.

"It's a nice way to say thank you," began Charles Wheeler, a Bluegrass Honor Flight Guardian. "Bringing them to the memorials and just being along to help them make sure they have a good experience."

As a Guardian, Wheeler had to pay $375 to attend the trip, but said the feeling he gets from helping out is priceless.

"I've done five or six of these now. I really enjoy coming on them and being a part of helping these old timers see the fruits of what they did," said Wheeler.

Tuckered out, the veterans left from the Iwo Jima Memorial for the airport, enjoying the perks of a police escort the entire way. Back at BWI, Miss Maryland Teen USA Hannah Brewer bid the group farewell with snapshots and song, serenading the troops with the national anthem and God Bless America.

"Thank you fellas," said Stone. "I appreciate the friendship. I think it's just a good fellowship and I won't forget that."

Exhausted but grateful, the 95-year-old made his way onto Miami Air International Flight 1945, eager to share his experience and photos with his 93-year-old wife waiting back home.

The veterans wrapped up their mission to D.C. with that thunderous homecoming celebration late Thursday night, commemorating a legacy of Bluegrass honor and worldwide service for which this reporter cannot thank them enough.

Honor Flight Bluegrass is now accepting applications for Korean and Vietnam war veterans to take part in an future Washington D.C. visits. To learn more about Honor Flights Bluegrass, click here.

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