The eighteenth Central Valley Honor Flight wasn’t without tears, reflection, and of course, smiles.
Seventy veterans, 68 men and two women, were taken on a trip of their lifetime to the east cost to visit war memorials, museums and the national cemetery.
In an early morning departure from Fresno on April 9, veterans lined up at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport to dozens of loved ones, even strangers, in a special send off.
About four and a half hours later, the veterans, along with their guardians, stepped foot in Baltimore, Maryland. They were treated to a BBQ dinner at American Legion Post 276. Two red lipsticked women warmly welcomed the veterans with kisses on each cheek, who of course continuously reapplied lipstick.
Over the course of the trip, several memorials were visited: The US Marine Memorial; World War II Memorial; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; Navy Memorial; Korean War Veterans Memorial; Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Arlington National Cemetery; Tomb of the Unknown Solider; Women In Military Service For America Memorial and the Air Force Memorial.
US MARINE MEMORIAL
For the first full day, the US Marine Memorial was the first stop. It’s also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.
“It’s very emotional,” said US Navy Veteran, Bob Cole of Fresno County. He served in World War II on the USS Hornet, CV-8.
When they were traveling around the South Pacific, an area controlled by Japan, Cole says their ship was bombed. A piece of the ship ricocheted, and knocked his left eye out from its socket. A rescue boat came about 45 minutes later after treading water.
With him on his special trip was his grandson, Cole Mahan.
KOREAN WAR VETERANS MEMORIAL
At the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veteran, Rudy Macedo of Fresno County, who served from 1953 to 1961, the was left speechless. The monument was built in 1995, and some say it’s the “forgotten war.”
Nothing about the war is forgotten, as Rudy struggled to express his emotions. “I’ve been looking forward to this,” Macedo says, pausing. “It makes me a little emotional. It represents those that sacrificed, those that died for our country.”
His granddaughter, Jenelle Jaramillo, was his guardian on the trip. “Being here at the Korean Memorial is a great experience because he gets to experience what he’s contributed to our country,” she says.
“It’s amazing that he’s my grandpa,” she added.
WOMEN IN MILITARY SERVICE FOR AMERICA MEMORIAL
The two women on the flight were honored with being registered at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial in separate emotional moments, but shared together.
Judy Tarter of Stanislaus County served from 1954 to 1955 as a teletype communications specialist. She went to boot camp nearby the memorial, she says, so it felt like a homecoming.
“Sixty-five years later, I think the people I served with, and went to school with. It’s just very touching,” Tarter says of the honor.
Being one of the only two women veterans on the trip, she says she wishes more women who served were found. “They’re kind of lost in history. I wish more were represented.”
Anna Borges of Sacramento County, also on the trip with her veteran husband Doug, selflessly couldn’t stop thanking the other veterans for their service. “I’m so proud of all those men that I was with on all those trips.”
She served as a nurse from 1960 to 1963.
“They went and did their job over there in that world where there was a jungle and everything else, and they did their job. They came back and they made their lives, and I was just so pleased to go into the service. I just felt so proud to be a service woman,” Borges says.
TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLIDER
“I lost some friends over there. They just went missing, completely,” says Fred Mares of Kings County. “By going there, it was helpful to somehow know what happened to them.”
Mares served in the Army special forces. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Solider’s Medal.
“That’s the one that really got to me,” he said, emotionally. When the trip first started, Mares said he began having flashbacks.
“(The memorial) brings back a lot of things.”
WORLD WAR II VETERANS MEMORIAL
Harold Reed of Fresno County, served in the Army and Air Force from 1946 to 1949.
While at the World War II Veterans Memorial, he says it’s “very important” to him. It’s somewhere he’s never visited.
Three Central Valley congressmen, Jim Costa, TJ Cox and Devin Nunes, visited with the veterans and thanked them endlessly for their service.
“We honor them in a way that tells them that a grateful nation can never ever say thank you enough,” Costa says.
After thanking and shaking hands with the veterans, Cox remarked, “We have so much gratitude and a debt to all our veterans who put their life, their safety, their obligations, on the line for us each and everyday.”
- While on the plane ride home, the Honor Flight organizers gathered personally handwritten mail from school students and family members for each one of the veterans. They opened and read the letters, some laughing, some crying and some, both.
- As the wheels touched back home at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, the entire group began singing “God Bless America.”
- Army veteran, Charlie Crane of Modesto, gave an impromptu performance of “America the Beautiful” at dinner to a room of more than 150 people.
- As the veterans were waitinf for the Changing of the Guard ceremony, school students passed by and thanked them for their service.
- Anywhere the veterans traveled, the federal police escorted them. Some referred to it as “parting of the sea.”
- While arriving to the Baltimore Washington Airport, complete strangers applauded the veterans.