Inaugural Twin Tiers Honor Flight
WASHINGTON---(WENY) Saturday April 12th marked a historic event for the Twin Tiers with it's first ever Honor Flight, paying tribute to many area veterans for their service with a trip to Washington, DC to visit their memorials.
Upon arriving at Dulles International Airport, cheerleaders from Oakton High School in Virginia greeted them with a spirited cheer, "welcome to Washington!"
It was a true hero's welcome. John Polcyn, a Korean War vet who served as a Corporal in the Army said the reception was, "Great! There's nothing like it."
John Mallick, a WWII veteran who served as a Technical Sargent in the Air Force in the China,Burma,India Theatre told me, "It's very overwhelming. It's very, very impressive. It's a wonderful welcome. I'm overwhelmed."
At the gate, active duty service men and women were there to thank each and every veteran for their service.
Major Damen Forte of the United States Air Force was among them. He said, "These guys have given everything for us. And I'm just excited to be here and thank them. A lot of them are thanking us, but it's all about them because they paved the way and they set it in motion for us."
The vets arrived at Binghamton airport at 6:00 Saturday morning and, besides waiting for the fog to subside, it wasn't too long before the jet carrying our veterans was up, up and away on its historic journey. It's all to say Thank you to the 52 World War II vets, 26 Korean War vets and one veteran who fought in Vietnam.
The first stop on the Twin Tiers Honor Flight Tour was at Arlington National Cemetery. It serves as the final resting place for many brave men and women who lost their lives overseas to protect our freedom here at home.
While visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the veterans got the chance to visit the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The tomb, which is guarded 24 hours a day, rain or shine, holds the remains of an American soldier who died fighting in World War I. To the west of the tomb, lies the crypts of unknown soldiers from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
From there it was off to the memorial sites, where I caught up with two Iwo Jima survivors.
The month long battle of Iwo Jima was notorious during World War II because it took the lives of over 6800 American forces.
Marines John Elliott and Eugene Rogers shared with me what visiting the Iwo Jima memorial site meant to them.
John Elliot served as a Corporal and said, "This is our beloved country, we were willing to die for it, and again I'd die for it."
Eugene Rogers was a Staff Sargent at the time and told me, "I feel more like an American here."
They came a long way to see for themselves the iconic symbol of their time spent in one of the fiercest battles in the Pacific.
Tasked with protecting our freedom so long ago, they tell me they have faith in the brave men and women serving as their successors.
Rogers said, "When I look around and see these people, it makes me feel now that our country is in good hands. Thats the way I feel."
On their return to the Southern Tier, our vets finally got the welcome home, some of them have waited a lifetime to receive.
U.S. Army vet Everett Elbrecht was a Staff Sergeant during the Korean War. He told me, "When some of us came home, we just came home at that was it. And that ain't..It wasn't right. I appreciate all that this outfit has done for us."
Tioga Downs Owner and CEO Jeff Gural sponsored the trip, and was amazed at the homecoming ceremony saying, " It was a real thrill to see the welcome these guys got tonight. I wasn't expecting... I knew they had some plans, but this is wild."
Honor Flight Coordinator DeAnna Deneen served as an officer the Air Force and says she did it all to honor the memory of her father who also served in the military. She told me that the Honor Flight was her way of mourning in a positive way. She said, "I'd like to think Daddy's upstairs and he's watching me, and he's proud that I was able to give back."
Deanna Deneen hopes to make more Honor Flights to pay tribute to our vets in the future and Jeff Gural says he'd be open to it as well.