A one-of-a kind trip happened on Wednesday for 130 veterans. It marked the 28th HonorAir flight where WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans traveled to Washington D.C. to visit memorials honoring their sacrifices.
There was a buzz of energy inside McGhee Tyson Airport early Wednesday morning.
“Always great being around a bunch of veterans because it makes you feel like when you were back in the service,” said Vietnam veteran James Rucker.
Baggage claim at the airport was deemed the meeting spot for volunteer escorts and veterans.
“I don’t think I can compare my service to theirs. I actually hope to learn a lot from them because there is just so much to learn from their experience,” said volunteer escort Emily Wilson who is currently serving in the U.S. Navy.
“Just getting a chance to pick their brain, understand their journey, where they came from and all that they’ve done to sacrifice and what motivated them to put themselves out there in that capacity. I know I’ll have a whole different perspective and whole different respect for them,” said volunteer escort and VFL Josh Dobbs.
There was a long line near security while veterans waited to get to gate 12, but it was also a chance to reconnect.
“I think what’s exciting is to see somebody, find out if they were over there, when they went in the service, where they went to basic, maybe you know each other,” said Korean War veteran Del Brewer.
Vietnam veteran James Cagle, who is also a two-time Purple Heart recipient, shared that he was wounded in the Iron Triangle. That day Cagle says he was acting squad leader on a search and destroy mission.
Cagle says as they visit memorials in D.C. on Wednesday, he’ll be thinking of the soldiers who didn’t come home.
“Trees were tied across the trail so we went underneath them. We had instructed our RTOs to stay behind. When I got underneath, I stood up and there was a huge blast. My radio operator didn’t listen to instructions and his antenna pulled at and set off a booby trap,” said Cagle.
Five WWII veterans flew on Wednesday’s flight, one of whom is George Dillon who then went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“I decided I was not going to work in the coal mines, so I joined the Army Air Corps,” said Dillon.
Surrounded by fellow soldiers, Dillon says it was a reminder of when he saw combat in Vietnam.
“My boss was injured. I could have been killed. When you go to war, you’re scared to death for about two weeks, then you get into routine and you’re able to make it out,” he said.
While this one-of-a-kind trip comes with a long day, many veterans say they’re looking forward to the welcome home and for some it’s one that comes many years later.
“What they’re doing for us, I thank them very much,” said Cagle.
“God bless America and God bless this country,” added Dillon.
This 28th HonorAir flight means organizers have flown more than 3,600 veterans to Washington D.C. to visit memorials.
Organizers say the flight is expected to land at 7:45 p.m. They ask supporters to get to McGhee Tyson early and parking has changed. You’re instructed to follow signs directing you to park in the economy lot located near the Airport Hilton. There will be golf carts running between the airport and parking lot.