Weekly Columns

Airports are often the scene of teary sendoffs as loved ones say goodbye, but one recent morning at Ronald Reagan Washington-National Airport a plane full of Arkansas and Oklahoma veterans were moved by their welcome to Washington, D.C.

“It was almost an overwhelming tribute,” Korean War veteran Larry Burris said. “It makes you proud to be an American.”

Burris, who calls Rogers, Arkansas home, and 73 other veterans had a hero’s welcome, something some of these veterans never experienced. They were greeted by a live band at the airport gate surrounded by travelers showing their appreciation. It was a heartwarming welcome with many tears of joy.  

The group was on a special day-long trip to the nation’s capital to see the memorials built in recognition of their service and sacrifice as participants of the Honor Flight. This organization honors the men and women who served our country by bringing them to see, free of charge, the memorials that represent their commitment to freedom and their impact on the history of the world.

In May of 2005, World War II veterans boarded a plane bound for Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial which had been recently dedicated. This was the first of many trips known today as the Honor Flight. Since 2005, more than 160,000 veterans from across the country have been afforded the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C and visit the national memorials thanks to this organization, the sponsors and volunteers who make the trip possible.

I’ve had the opportunity to greet Honor Flight participants at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport airport before they departed for Washington, as well as welcoming them back home at the conclusion of their whirlwind trip, but seeing these American heroes experience the memorials in person is truly inspiring. I was honored to have the opportunity to meet with the participants of this particular Honor Flight at the WWII Memorial.

The veterans were in great spirits. For many from the Greatest Generation, it was the first time they saw this memorial which stands as dedication to their commitment and resolve to rid the world of tyranny, an endeavor which they ultimately succeeded in.

Each Honor Flight is a testament to the men and women who have been called to protect our country. They all have unique stories, but the one thing they all have in common is they are unassuming people. They are just ordinary people who were called to do extraordinary things.

The stories I heard at the memorial serve as a reminder that freedom is not free. Recognizing the commitment and dedication of our men and women who selflessly served with this tribute is the least we can do to show our gratitude.

The O&A (Oklahoma and Arkansas) Honor Flight was able to make this a dream come true for our veterans thanks to numerous sponsors and donations. To learn more about future flights go to oahonorflight.org.

The Honor Flight is an experience these veterans will always remember. It’s a great tribute to the men and women who have given their time and service to our country.