WASHINGTON D.C. — Arriving at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on a brisk October morning, United States veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam took flight, headed for ‘One More Tour with Honor.’
Proud men and women from every military branch touched down in Baltimore, Maryland, just as the sun rose. The sound of cheers echoed through the terminal as they walked and rolled through the halls.
“One fella really caught me off guard because he said ‘welcome home,'” said Vietnam Army veteran Jim Hoerner. “When we came home, there was none of that.”
Getting off the plane brings back memories. For those who served in the Vietnam War, their return home was something many would like to forget.
“We went to the San Francisco airport, and they were spitting at us, calling us baby killers, and everything under the sun,” said Vietnam Army veteran Joseph Rajnisz.
Accompanied by their loved ones, Honor Flight takes these brave men and women to the memorials built to honor their service and the sacrifice of fallen heroes.
The tour started at a place close to Bill Gosch’s heart. Not only is he part of the Greatest Generation, but the 98-year-old proudly served in the Marines.
“It’s overwhelming. I’ve had one of the best days I’ve had in years. I’ve enjoyed every minute of our whole experience here,” said Gosch.
With eight memorials to see, the group moved efficiently. The Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight honored those killed at the Pentagon on September 11th and helped lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
But, the trip wasn’t complete without paying appropriate tribute to those who served in Korea and Vietnam.
“I need to go to the wall,” said Vietnam Army veteran David Miller. “I’ve got 33 members of my company on that wall.”
With many Honor Flight passengers serving in Vietnam, the 58,318 names etched into the striking, black granite is breathtaking.
“You wouldn’t think just looking at a wall with names on it, it would get you that emotional,” said Hoerner. “Brings back a lot of memories.”
Wearing bright yellow hats, volunteers traced names on the wall with charcoal pencils. With a line forming around him, one volunteer asked an eager veteran how he knew the person on the wall.
“It was an ambush,” said the veteran. “He died in my arms.”
Joseph Rajnisz reflected while looking at his keepsake. “Two of the kids, friends I grew up with. We used to jump over the fence to get to our backyards.”
Service is a sacrifice not everyone is willing to make. But these brave men and women never questioned their mission.
“I was in the army, I was going in the army, and I wasn’t going to try to get out of it,” said Vietnam War veteran Richard Zolnowski. “Everybody’s gotta do something, you know?”
After a long day in D.C., the crew headed home with new friends, memories, and a hero’s welcome they deserved decades ago.
“I think if you asked anybody here if they would do it again, I think they would all say ‘yeah,'” said Hoerner. “Like they say, freedom isn’t free.”
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