1,700 greet HonorAir flight at McGhee Tyson
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
Home they came to cheering crowds, the men and women of East Tennessee who served their country in its times of need.
More than 1,700 people turned out Wednesday night to greet the return of about 130 World War II and Korean War veterans from HonorAir’s 12th flight to Washington, D.C.
Jay Sweeney, of Crossville, was the first veteran to be escorted off the plane. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II in the Pacific Theater. “It’s overwhelming — all the greetings and the love,” he said with obvious emotion.
The veterans traveled to the nation’s capitol to see the memorials built to honor their sacrifices. They were flown by HonorAir Knoxville, a program established and presented by Prestige Cleaners in Knoxville.
HonorAir has taken more than 1,300 veterans on this special trip. Covenant Health has been a major sponsor for each of the flights.
Mark and Lois Heerdt, of Maryville, were two of the veterans being honored. Mark went into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and served throughout China, Burma and India. Lois served in the U.S. Navy in Philadelphia.
“It was quite an experience for a young guy,” Mark Heerdt said. “It was a great travel (opportunity) and a totally different type of culture, and I was interested enough in perusing it somewhat. As far as the military, it was far from being what you’d expect for a military career, but they had people in China, and I was one of them.”
Sam Hardman, of Halls, a veteran of World War II, is the HonorAir ambassador. He waited patiently for the arrival of the plane on Wednesday to welcome his fellow veterans home. “It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.
HonorAir invited the public to come to McGhee Tyson Airport to welcome the veterans home. “When we return home, and our veterans see all the flags, patriotic balloons and people lined up to welcome them, they are incredibly touched that people care about the sacrifices they made for their country,” said Eddie Mannis, chairman of HonorAir. “In fact, for many of our veterans the welcoming crowds when they arrive in Washington, D.C., and when they return home to Knoxville are the most memorable part of the journey.”
Ann Wolf, a member of the Rolling Thunder National Organization, was there for her third HonorAir flight. “It’s pretty overwhelming,” she said while waiting to greet the veterans. “Be prepared for a lot of tears. You can only imagine what it is like for them to see the memorials and then to come home and see this.”
The one-day, all-expense-paid trip via a USAirways chartered flight included tours of the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Marine and Air Force Memorials. In addition, the group saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and drove past the Navy Memorial.
Veterans do not pay for the trip, which also includes all meals and snacks. They receive a HonorAir lapel pin and hat, a commemorative book and a DVD with highlights of the trip. About 32 volunteer escorts join the flight to assist the veterans.
The cost of each flight is about $60,000. HonorAir is a nonprofit organization, so donations are tax deductible. Those wishing to make a donation can do so via PayPal at http://honorairknoxville.com or can send a check to HonorAir Knoxville 7536 Taggart Lane, Knoxville, TN 37938.
Prestige Cleaners provides all administrative support so every dollar donated is applied directly to the cost of the flight.
For information about the program and how veterans can apply for future flights, call 865-938-7701 or visit http://honorairknoxville.com .