Western Slope Honor Flight: Part 1

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Honor. One definition given by Webster’s dictionary says "one whose worth brings respect." And who better to embody that word than veterans of World War II?

Gathering on a brisk morning, with Mt. Garfield seeming to burn in the background, Western Slope veterans prepare to board the Western Slope's third Honor Flight.

The purpose of Honor Flight is to pay respect to the people who gave so much to this country by taking them to see first-hand, their memorials in Washington D.C. "It's pretty nice to see ever body together," says William Shake.

A Navy veteran, Shake is just one of the 106 veterans getting ready to make the journey, every one with a unique story of sacrifice and bravery.

Shake tells one of his, "If I remember right, the first submarine that surrendered when Germany surrendered was to us. Up in the North Atlantic, 585 was the number of it."

Just across the way Merchant Marine Larry Keenan reflects on his duty of running ammunition to the US fleet in the Pacific and some close calls with kamikazes. "When that plane came back across the bow, I could see that pilot's eyes, that sounds like that's a lie but it isn't. He was that close," says Keenan.

As boarding time gets closer, anticipation hangs thick in the air. Keenan says, "And they're probably going to hit the real highlights of Washington, I would think, and I'm looking forward to that."

With a bagpiper playing in the background veterans make their way onto the tarmac. Each one escorted by law enforcement and fire personnel from the Grand Valley. The Colorado National Guard is there as well. Those who can’t make it up the stairs on their own get a personal lift from several first responders.

As the plane taxis down the runway, the Honor Guard gives one final salute. Virgil Crabtree watches from the window. "Just phenomenal, gosh darn, all the officers lined up, that shows their appreciation, it's just unbelievable it's neat I tell you," says Crabtree.

Landing in Baltimore to cheers and greetings, some veterans get a surprise right off the bat when out-of-town family members join the procession but reunions were brief as the Honor Flight immediately heads to its first stop, Arlington Cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Part of the year they change the guard every hour, the rest, every half hour. Veterans and visitors alike watched as soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry make the precise 21 steps up and back the stretch of the tomb. Twenty-one symbolizing the highest military honor that can be bestowed, the 21 gun salute.

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