Veteran said about the Welcome Home: This is the best part of the whole thing!

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Early Wednesday morning, more than 80 veterans took off on the trip of a lifetime to see the monuments and memorials in Washington D.C. that stand in their honor. And when they returned, the veterans received a welcome fit for the heroes they are.

There were tears, hugs, signs, flags, salutes and an unmistakable sense of patriotism which filled the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport by the end of the day Wednesday.

The celebration of Mississippi's first Honor Flight began with a water cannon salute as the plane landed, greeted by members of military at full attention on the runway.

But leaving the plane, many were unprepared by the huge show of support. More than 3,000 people gathered to welcome home these members of the greatest generation.

Young and old lined the exit to welcome home their veterans and thank them for the foundation they built.

Veteran Bob Hammond said, "But this is the best part of the whole thing. I'd seen most everything, but boy this, I can't get over this!"

"We appreciate all they did to make the world what it is today," spectator Russell Smith said. "They pretty much conquered an evil empire and gave us all an opportunity to live in a free world. We owe them a little respect."

"The trip was great, but he's right. This is a wonderful reception. Thank you very much," said Veteran Tom Swazye.

Our very own Jeff Lawson traveled with the veterans and will have more on their incredible trip on WLOX News Thursday and on

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.