KALAMAZOO, Mich. — West Michigan veterans headed to our nation's capital on Saturday for the first honor flight since before the pandemic.
The group gathered at Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport around 4:30 a.m. to get ready for takeoff.
"We are taking our first honor flight, Mission 19. We titled it Mission 19. It is our first flight since Nov. 2, 2019," said Talons Out Honor Flight's Tour Leader Angela Pettit.
It has been around 22 months since Talons Out Honor Flight took veterans to Washington, D.C. That all changed on Saturday as 186 people, including 79 veterans, arrived to the airport ready to board the plane.
"I’m really excited. I never thought I would get on it. I have talked to people who have been on it. It is just fantastic," said Korean War Veteran Huston Rinehart.
The group was compiled of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other veterans who all got the chance to experience their conflict's memorials together. The trip for them was completely free.
"We'll go from Arlington to the FDR and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials. Then we'll hit World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lincoln, and then we'll go to the Air Force, and Hiroshima, and then we'll head back to the airport," said Pettit.
It may have been a quick day trip, but Pettit said it's something to show these veterans that West Michigan thanks them for their service.
"It's extremely important to show them that we care. Back, you know, during Korea and Vietnam, especially, they didn't really get a welcome home. Nobody really cared that they came back, or their interpretation is that, you know, that then, nobody cared," said Pettit.
"It is very good for veterans to do something like this together. It makes it even better," said Korean War Veteran Frank Straub.
After that long day, veterans returned back to the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport just before 8 p.m.
From the airport, they were escorted by the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety to Air Zoo for a "homecoming celebration."
That celebration brought out family, friends and community members.
The welcome back lasted around one hour, acting as a recap of the day meant for remembrance, thanks and lots of emotions.