PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The first veteran arrived at 2 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning. By the time all were present, the excitement in the room was palpable.
As they waited, young Airmen, who had come to see the vets off on their trip, a lifetime in the making, listened intently to the stories of the Greatest Generation.
They left the Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne, Fla., at 3:45 a.m. with a saber arch and a police escort, provided by Brevard County Police, to the Orlando International Airport. The group of 25 World War II veterans, their volunteer escorts and five staff members were ready to go. It was going to be a long, but exciting, day.
The trip was for an Honor Flight; a special trip for World War II veterans to see the memorial in their honor in Washington D.C. These trips relay on the goodwill of many as the veterans are completely sponsored and pay nothing out of pocket. The escorts, or Guardians, are mostly volunteers and have no connection to the veterans on the trip.
Guardians pay their own fees, generally about $400, and are assigned to a single veteran as an escort.
The flight from Orlando landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and again the travelers were met by a crowd of well-wishers.
Dozens of Midshipmen from the Naval Academy, along with many civilians, stood right at the gate cheering.
Every stop along the way there were volunteers to cheer them on, treating 80-90-year-old men and women like rock stars.
Leota Cahall, an Army Nurse and second lieutenant in the Philippines during the war, was overcome with emotion as a group of female Midshipmen surrounded her, thanking her for blazing the trails that have allowed them to pursue their dreams.
"I didn't know I had such an effect," said Cahall.
For Ed Barnett, a former Sailor, Soldier and Airman, it is his first trip in five years.
"I used to travel to Europe every other year with my wife," said Barnett. "She was my nurse during the war, I asked her to the movies on Friday, we went again on Saturday and I asked her to marry me the next weekend. Since she passed I don't travel anymore."
For many, the memorial built to honor their sacrifice, was a sight unseen.
"I wish this had been built sooner," was a thought voiced by every veteran.
"It is overwhelming," said Leota Cahall. "It's wonderful."
Editor's Note: For more information about Honor Flights or to donate or become a Guardian escort, visit www.honorflightecfl.org or call toll free 888-750-2522.