Another group of Mississippi World War II veterans is back home after a trip to see their memorial.
On September 21st, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight program took 86 veterans to Washington. This was the second trip for the chapter.
The day began before sunrise, with a police escort leading the way, followed by three buses carrying the vets to Gulfport Biloxi International.
"I am real excited, can't believe we are going on this trip," veteran Harold Roberts said. With those words, he summarized the feelings of every one of the veterans on the trip.
Within an hour, they were off to Washington on a chartered U.S. Air jet. The flight took the 84 men and two female war veterans straight to Reagan National Airport, where they got a rousing welcome. It was just a precursor to the incredible day ahead for our Mississippi veterans.
By mid morning, they arrived at the place they had traveled to see, the World War II Memorial. As the veterans waited to make their entrance, some onlookers nearby were nearly overcome with emotion.
Kathleen Parish lives in the Virginia suburbs and had come to see a relative from the North Carolina Honor Flight, who also went to Washington the same day.
"I have not stopped crying since I got here," she said. "I lost my dad in February of this year. He was 90, and he never got to see it. I am so proud of these men."
The greatest generation seldom shows outward displays of emotion, but to glance into their eyes as they were about to enter the place they had waited so long to see, it was clear how much gratitude and thanks they felt.
We saw one Mississippi vet holding the hands of his two infant great-grandchildren, who had come from their home in the Washington area to meet him.
Another Mississippi veteran had met his son at the memorial. Robert Pigott, who lives in the DC area, said he was immensely proud of his dad and his service.
"He helped to defend our country," Pigott said. "I have such respect for what my dad did and I am so honored to be able to meet him here."
On one side of the memorial stand the stars that represent the 400,000 American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Zack Bullock of Jackson County told us it was hard to look at them. Mr. Bullock served with Patton's 3rd Army.
"I saw men die on both sides of me," he said. "I was so fortunate to make it back alive; so many did not."
Mr. Bullock's nephew, Jared Law, came on the trip as his great-uncle's guardian. Jared is 22-years-old, his great Uncle Zack went to war when he was 18.
When we asked what his great-uncle means to him, Jared glanced at him and said, "He is a heck of a man, a heck of a man. In fact, all our vets are really special people."
After 90 minutes at their memorial, it was on to other stops, including the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Then, a tired, but immensely grateful group of vets flew home.
During the flight, a mail took place, just like during the war years. Each vet was able to open a number of letters written by local school children, thanking them for their service. The looks of wonder and joy on the faces of our vets said it all.
Finally, just like with the last Honor Flight, when our veterans arrived back home, an estimated 2,000 local folks were at the airport, just to let the World War II veterans know how much they are appreciated and loved by this community. Suffice to say, there was hardly a dry eye in the place.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight plans to take another group of veterans to see the memorial in the spring of next year.