Veterans Day came four days early for several local men who traveled to Washington, D.C. with Honor Flight on Saturday, visiting the monuments erected in their honor, surrounded by veterans who had endured the same battles, both on the front lines as well as at home.
The Honor Flight experience culminated Saturday night with a tremendous welcome home celebration at the Dayton Airport, with a welcoming crowd larger perhaps than any before. At least 500 people gathered at the gate, including active servicemen and women and family members, who watched the veterans de-plane. Diana Pry of Honor Flight Dayton said that at least 500 more greeters lined the aisle of airport’s main terminal as the veterans and their guardians were received by deafening cheers and applause. Pry said that the welcome home ceremony continues to grow because of Honor Flight supporters sharing the experience with their friends, and encouraged people to keep spreading the word. The Troy Tribune has provided continuous coverage of the Honor Flight experience, and the overwhelming majority of veterans have considered the welcoming home celebration to be the most memorable experience of the trip.
Jim Salamon of Honor Flight Dayton addressed the crowds awaiting the veterans’ return, saying the tradition continues to be of utmost importance because many of these men did not receive a proper welcoming upon their return home from war.
“This is what you should have received so many years ago,” Salamon told the vets. “Hopefully this will make a difference in your lives…Vietnam and Korean vets were not treated very well, and you should have received this appreciation so many years ago,” he said.
“No American soldier should have been ashamed to wear their uniform in the United States,” he added.
It was just after midnight when the veterans experienced this final surprise of their trip, and although they were exhausted after being awake for nearly 24 hours, they still greeted their well-wishers with enthusiasm and delight. Everyone on the trip had arrived at the airport before 3 a.m. that morning to prepare for departure, and they landed back in Dayton some 20 hours later, just before 11 p.m.
Honor Flight Dayton made the switch to using chartered flights this year instead of flying commercially with other passengers. Salamon said each charter flight accommodates over 100 veterans and their guardians. Organizations and individuals may sponsor a flight for $20,000, or co-sponsor the flight for $10,000 apiece. Guardians pay their own way, which accounts for about 25 percent of the total cost, and the rest is funded by donations. Salamon said that Saturday’s flight cost about $53,000, and that the cost is anticipated to jump over $60,000 per flight when they resume flights in April of 2016. The Troy Foundation and Thrivent Financial co-sponsored Saturday’s trip. Matt Buehrer of Thrivent Financial said the sponsorship supports the company’s commitment to generosity, and noted that their involvement with Honor Flight spans many years.
A total of 113 veterans flew with Honor Flight on Saturday, including 14 from World War II, 31 from the Korean War, and 68 from Vietnam. Salamon said this was the largest group of veterans that Honor Flight Dayton has had the pleasure of flying.
Honor Flight Dayton will resume its trips on April 2 of 2016, and has scheduled trips for April and May, though Salamon said they do not fly during June, July, and August because the cost of chartered flights increases exponentially. After the summer hiatus, trips will likely resume again in September. To sign up a veteran or guardian for Honor Flight Dayton, visit www.honorflightdayton.org and fill out the required forms, or call 937-322-4448. Veterans who served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are being accepted, with World War II veterans given preference.