WASHINGTON, DC (WLOX) - Around 90 World War II veterans from Mississippi spent the day in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. They were taken to our nation's capital to see the World War II memorial, courtesy of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight.
"You can go up there and get your boarding pass and then go upstairs," an honor flight volunteer instructed veterans, as they arrived at the airport early Tuesday.
Nearly 90 World War II veterans, with excitement in their eyes, checked-in and picked up their boarding passes.
"Yeah, we're going to Washington," one smiling veteran told a young man in uniform.
Following check-in, a final farewell from South Mississippi's congressman.
"Hey, good morning sir. How are you doing? Thank you for your service," said Congressman Steven Palazzo.
Two hours later, they enjoyed a hero's welcome at Reagan National Airport in Washington.
Hugs and handshakes and grateful smiles welcome the patriots to our nation's capital. Music from a brass band entertained, while historic headlines from decades ago were displayed in a vintage newspaper with the bold headline, "PEACE."
The heartfelt "thank you" at the airport was a mere prelude to the afternoon.
"Thank you for your service!" shouted by standers, as the Mississippi delegation arrived at World War II memorial. They were again welcomed with much respect and overdue thanks.
The vets headed toward the Mississippi column inside the massive monument.
"Great. It's a beautiful place. Beautiful place," said Nicholas "Corky" Hire, who turns 91 next week.
The 2009 Biloxi Shrimp King was barely out of his teens when he put on the uniform.
"I was 21 years old," he recalled, "It was tough. But when you're young, you don't pay attention to that, you know."
Rita Bailey fought back tears, as she explained the joy of bringing her father to the nation's capital.
"You're going to make me cry," she said, "Special. He's my hero. My sister and I both. We love him very much and are proud of him and what he did for our country."
Called by their country, these patriots put their lives on hold while they marched off to defend freedom.
"I first got in when I was 14," said Joe Kempner, "I lied about my age by two years. And got away with it," he recalled.
"We just did what we had to do, that's all. We just did what we had to do," said Henry Burkle. "I remember when England was getting in trouble and we were starting the draft. I went ahead and volunteered. And everyone else did the same thing. There were no heroes in the bunch. They were all heroes in my estimation."
The day included a visit to the Korean War memorial, with its wall of etched faces and marching statues of young men on patrol; soldiers with haunting eyes.
The Iwo Jima monument was also on the itinerary; that iconic image of raising the flag forever memorialized.
Following their whirlwind tour of war monuments in Washington, the humble heroes returned to the cheers, music and appreciation that was largely missing when they came back from battle.
"Oh my gosh, that was wonderful. I thought I was a star or something. All of us were stars," said Virgie Davis of Pascagoula.
Stars that deserved a long overdue thanks, to the greatest generation.