HonorAir takes veterans to visit memorials in Washington, D.C.

HonorAir takes local veterans to visit memorials in Washington, D.C.

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This is the 16th Knoxville HonorAir flight since the program began. This is the 16th Knoxville HonorAir flight since the program began.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WATE) - For many veterans the first glimpse of the World War II memorial is a breathtaking site.

"It makes me proud to be an American," said WWII veteran Forest Bollinger.

On Wednesday more than 100 East Tennessee veterans made the trip of a lifetime and 6 News had to the opportunity to go along on the emotional journey.

Bright and early, veterans and their guardians gathered at McGhee Tyson Airport for the 16th HonorAir Knoxville flight.

It's an all-expenses-paid, one day trip to Washington D.C. With the help of donations the goal is to bring as many WWII and Korean veterans to the nation's capital as they can.

Many of these gentlemen have waited months, if not a lifetime to see the monuments built in their honor. 

"Probably could never do it ourselves," said Gene Bailey, a Korean veteran.

It was a whirlwind day, making our way across D.C. From the Air Force monument to the Korean War memorial.

"Just being here today brings me back a lot," said Gorman Bolling, a machine gunner for the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

A humble group, they shy away from being called heroes. But that's exactly what they are.

"I went over in ‘52, they were still fighting when I was there. I was on the line most of the time," said Bolling

Known as the greatest generation, the 16th HonorAir flight was all about honoring these 128 veterans.

"It feels great to be reminded, although you never forget," said WWII veteran Les Kegebein.

From the WWII memorial to the Arlington Cemetery and ending with the monument dedicated to the Marine Corps., each of the stops brings up memories for the veterans. While they're excited to see each of these memorials with their fellow serviceman but they're also reminded of the men who couldn't there.

"I think of several guys that I grew up that perished I the war, it gives me cold chills to look at it," said Charlie Burus, a WWII veteran who went straight into the Navy out of high school.

At the Wall of Freedom, each of the 4,048 stars represents 100 lives lost.

"The gold stars they represent so much," said Rubel Harrison, a WWII veteran.

At 95 Harrison is one of the oldest veterans on the trip but he said he's incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see these memorials with the other veterans.

"These guys they fought too, but like myself they came back, those names on the wall they didn't come back," Harrison said.

And as we made our way back to Knoxville the veterans were welcomed home in a true hero's fashion. It was a reaction they received all day, but it wasn't one they expected.

"Everywhere we went people wanted to shake our hands, give us a hug or just thank us for our service, it was indiscernible," said Army veteran Carl Gibson choking back tears.

It may not have been a reaction they expected, but it was the one they deserved.

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