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Final Triangle Flight of Honor trip draws huge homecoming crowd

Posted April 18, 2012

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— A huge crowd of people greeted about 125 local World War II veterans when they arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Wednesday evening from the eighth and final Triangle Flight of Honor trip to Washington, D.C.

Four floors of the airport's atrium were packed with people carrying signs, banners and American flags to welcome the veterans home.

"My great-grandfather died in 2004. He was a veteran in World War II, so I felt like I should honor him by coming here today," said 12-year-old Alex Leinbach. Triangle Flight of Honor Flight of Honor homecoming

The largest group of veterans in Triangle Flight of Honor history traveled to see monuments and memorials in the nation's capital. The trip, which is free for veterans and paid for by donations, centers around a visit to the National World War II Memorial.

"It meant a lot because it's been 67 years and I got to see a replica of my old ship in the Navy museum," said veteran Ed Donovan.

Flight of Honor Flight of Honor vets get huge homecoming

"It brought back memories. I thought about a lot of people I haven't for a long time," said veteran Leo Smith.

Since 2009, Triangle Flight of Honor has taken more than 800 veterans on such a trip, but Wednesday marked its final voyage, in part due to the dwindling number of living servicemen and women who served in World War II.

Some veterans got a surprise or two during the day-long excursion.

While waiting to depart at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, veteran L.J. Harper was presented with replacements for all of the medals and decorations he earned in the war, which had been misplaced over the years.

"I was not expecting to get these ribbons back to tell you the truth," he said. "But I am grateful."

Flight of Honor WWII vets visit DC for final Flight of Honor

After arriving in Washington, D.C., veterans were taken by bus to the National World War II memorial, where Jim Cotton, 87, was unexpectedly greeted by family members.

"You're going to have me crying," he told one relative, hugging her. 

"What a treat," he said. "I never expected this at all."

For Cotton, it was family that made the trip worthwhile. For 86-year-old Goldie Goldston, it was the chance to lay eyes on the memorial – something he never imagined he would get to do at this stage of his life.

Eight Flights of Honor through veterans' eyes Flights of Honor through veterans' eyes

"It's probably the only opportunity I would have had to come," he said. "I don't do much traveling anymore. This just hit the spot."

Looking at the granite pillars and pool of water built to honor him and his comrades, Goldston was overcome.

"It's unbelievable," he said.

Navy veteran Janice Gravely, 90, agreed.

"I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I just think it's the most beautiful thing," she said. "It really makes my heart stop."

Gravely, who was one of only two women to make Wednesday's trip, said she wished more veterans could have the opportunity to share her joy.

"I wish the veterans that can't be here could understand that they're being honored in this way," she said.

Veterans will fly back to the Triangle Wednesday evening.

The public is invited to welcome them home at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 8 p.m. 


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  • barbstillkickin Apr 19, 2012

    I cried the whole time I watched on WRAL and seen all the faces of these proud Americans who served for our Country and were treated so badly on their return to the Country they served to protect. This was the first news I have heard in so long that was special and good to see.

  • sinenomine Apr 19, 2012

    I do not perceive "anger" in josephlawrence43's posting, the first in the current series. It is regrettable that he refers to "leftist/socialist/liberals" and I don't see the point in it. I also don't necessarily agree that today's vets aren't shown the same respect as are those from WW II. Still, I think his point of view, though inartistically expressed, is worthy of consideration and I don't agree that it is necessarily "hateful", a loaded word if ever there was one.

  • OGE Apr 19, 2012

    I don't know why anyone who claims they served in WWII would come on here spouting such anger as the first Poster? This stoy is here to celebrate the sacrifices of those who served in WWII. Take your anger somewhere else it does not belong here.

  • sinenomine Apr 19, 2012

    You are correct, lacastaneda, about the memorial in Washington DC (@ 9:44 AM 04/19). It is, however, the District of Columbia's memorial, not a national one. And it is in disrepair, so I hear.

    I also lived in Washington DC for quite a number of years.

  • geoherb1 Apr 19, 2012

    My father-in-law served in the Navy during WWII. I wish he had been well enough to have gone on one of these flights. He died last summer, though, after an extended illness. In his last years, his memory of his days in the Navy was better than the rest of his memory.

  • streetglide Apr 19, 2012

    the last of the great Americians!,, a generation of peole that new what it took to be part of a great country and have to fight for it to maintain it for future generations, I can only wish the current generation had the same manners and desires! read it for yourself and you decide!

  • lacastaneda Apr 19, 2012

    There is a memorial for WW1, but there has been a charged battle over it for many years now. I used to live in DC,, I have seen it and sadly it was in great disrepair. You can look here to learn more:

    Please look at the link, there is a great video featuring the last living WW1 veteran. We could certainly do more to honor these folks.

  • unclegrits Apr 19, 2012

    "It is indeed sad--disgraceful--that the leftist/socialist/liberals don't extend the same level of respect, honor and recognition to our current troops that is shown these WWII vets"

    Interesting how you didn't mention that a current soldier was booed at a Republican debate.

  • sinenomine Apr 19, 2012

    I visited the Air Force Museum in Dayton last September. The Doolittle raid display has, among other things, a set of glasses which were used for toasts at reunions over the years. When a Doolittle raid veteran dies his glass is permanently turned upside down. I believe I counted maybe two or three glasses which were still rightside up in the display.

  • westernwake1 Apr 19, 2012

    In similar news... the surviving Doolittle Raiders from WW2 were honored in Dayton Ohio on the 70th anniversary of the daring U.S. air attack on Japan.

    Here is a link to the article on WRAL - http://www.wral.com/news/national_world/national/story/11000050/