Triangle veterans return to heroes' welcome
Crowds gathered at Raleigh Durham International Airport Wednesday evening to give a heroes' welcome to Triangle veterans who participated in the Flight of Honor to Washington, D.C.Posted — Updated
About 200 North Carolina veterans from World War II and other wars visited the national memorials built in their honor on a daylong trip to the nation's capital.
Family members, tourists and Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan greeted the veterans when they arrived at the National WWII memorial Memorial.
In wheelchairs and on foot, they made their way to the column where North Carolina is etched in stone for a plaque presentation.
"The reaction of the world to us today is something that I had never expected," said Ruby Brooks, who served as a Navy nurse in WWII.
While in the nation's capital, Veterans also toured the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iwo Jima and Air Force memorials, and got an exclusive look at vintage aircraft at the Smithsonian museum.
At the national Air Force memorial, an American flag was presented to 95-year-old John Sloan, the oldest veteran to make the trip.
"It was a very unexpected honor and I certainly appreciate it," Sloan said.
For many veterans, seeing the memorials reconnects them to a past they'll never forget. More than six decades have passed since Eugene Lee stormed the beaches of Normandy.
"I was scared. I was scared to death, but I made it," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Gov. Bev Perdue was on hand to send off the veterans from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
"They believe so much in democracy and in America and in a free world that they risked everything," Perdue said. "You can't talk about patriotism without seeing these people."
Active Marines, members of the Patriot Guard Riders and volunteers saluted the veterans as they arrived and helped them through the airport. Firefighters shot water cannons over their plane as it took off.
"Some of the folks today will see the names of people they served with (on the monuments)," Perdue said. "Others will just celebrate they ability they've had to live a life in America."
The veterans returned to a homecoming celebration in the atrium at RDU around 7:30 p.m.
Jessica Jackson and her son drove from North Carolina to the memorial so she could take the tour with her 90-year-old grandfather, James Hood. She felt it was a great way to know what he's been through. The two then drove back so they could welcome the veteran home at RDU along with the rest of the family.
James Hood said the homecoming was nothing like what he received when he came home from the war and went straight to work on a farm. With tears in his eyes, he said he knew exactly what freedom means – having his family and a legacy of love.
"I knew everyone of them loved me, but they put an extra thing on it tonight," he said.
The Triangle Flight of Honor nonprofit raises funds to provide the daylong trips to D.C. at no cost to veterans.