As US Airways flight 9090 arrived at Gate 38 at Ronald Reagan National Airport from Shreveport, La., announcements throughout the terminal brought a throng of passengers from throughout the concourse. On board the jet were 111 World War II veterans and a group of escorts. The reception, like many they would receive this day, was overwhelming.
The goal is to allow veterans of World War II to see the memorial at no cost; all expenses have been covered by donations. It started with a promise of one flight, and has turned into 15 flights so far. As Smith points out, his mission is time-critical. “The memorial wasn’t finished until September of 2003,” Smith said. “At that time the youngest World War II veteran was 77 years old. Probably over 90 percent of them will never have the opportunity to see this memorial built in their honor if we don’t take them.”
The veterans were greeted at the World War II Memorial by former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, and spent over an hour in the rain and cold, sharing stories with their comrades and bystanders.
In addition to the World War II Memorial, they visited the Marine Corps Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where representatives from the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of The Unknowns.
The biggest welcome of the day was waiting for them on their return to Shreveport, just 18 hours after the start of their trip. Several hundred citizens, servicemembers and a full-strength Army band were there to greet them. No doubt tired from their hectic schedule, the returning veterans received exactly the kind of honorable welcome they deserved. Watch a video and slideshow of the Honor Air event.