A crowd from all over Southwest Florida packed the concourse at Southwest Florida International Airport Saturday night to give a true heroes welcome to veterans returning home from the Collier County Honor Flight.
Honor Flight takes veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea, and brings them to the nation’s capital to see the monuments built in their honor.
“It was really an amazing trip,” said J. Collier, a Korean war veteran on the Honor Flight. “This was my first trip to Washington D.C. and it was unforgettable.”
Started in 2004, when the WWII monument was completed, Earl Morse, a retired Air Force captain and physician’s assistant, realized that many of his WWII patients wouldn’t be able to see their own monument due to old age. It was then that he offered to fly with two veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the WWII memorial. After pitching the idea to over 300 other pilots at his local aeroclub, Morse had funds raised, pilots willing to fly and on May 21, 2005, six small planes flew 12 veterans to Washington D.C. for the first Honor Flight.
Since then, the mission has expanded to serve all military veterans, with main priority given to elderly and terminally ill veterans. Through donations and volunteers, the tours are provided free of charge to veterans and each veteran is assigned a guardian, a volunteer who travels with them for the duration of the trip.
“Everyone was so nice and helpful,” Collier said. “Coming home to all these people was just the icing on the cake.”
The tour of Washington included stops at some of the nation’s most popular memorials. War memorials for World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iwo Jima, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“We really try to make things special,” A volunteer said. “These are true heroes and they deserve the utmost respect from all of us.”
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