Hundreds Welcome Back World War II Vets After Inaugural Honor Flight

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

More than one hundred World War II veterans received a hero's welcome Wednesday evening, as they returned from a whirlwind trip to see their memorial in Washington DC.

"It was unbelievable," said Rex Howard, a Navy vet who served in World War II. "Way and far beyond what I ever expected."

"I think it was just unusually wonderful that people would do this," said Cleo Elliot, a Marine Corps vet who served in World War II.

Hundreds of people cheering and waving their flags, and three local marching bands packed the Grand Junction Regional Airport Wednesday afternoon -- putting the cherry on top of an exciting and emotional trip for a group of World War II veterans.

"It's appreciated," said Elliot. "It's appreciated by all these guys."

Tuesday morning, 113 World War II vets made the Western Slope's inaugural Honor Flight to Washington DC -- an all expense paid trip to give them their first look at the National World War II Memorial, which wasn't completed until 2004.

"I wanted to go for the dedication, but I was financially unable at the time," said Howard. "This was a privilege."

When they arrived, the group was met by former U.S. Senators Bob and Libby Dole. But they say the true highlight of the trip was laying eyes on the country's ultimate tribute to their service.

"Naturally we feel a little different because we know a lot of people that are not here anymore," said Elliot.

"It's hard to explain," said Howard. "It was a privilege and a great privilege."

"Their eyes, their expressions were very powerful and very moving," said Kris Baugh, Director of Western Slope Honor Flight.

The vets say the trip alone deeply touched their hearts -- so when they saw the crowds that came to the airport to greet them, they had to fight back tears as they smiled.

"It's overwhelming to me," said Elliot.

Western Slope Honor Flight says the trip was a greater success than they could have imagined.

"Absolutely one-hundred percent worth it," said Baugh.

Organizers say their experiences during that 48 hour trip have them thinking another one might not be out of the question.

"Do we wanna jump right in there and have a flight in April or May?" said Baugh. "I'm sure I've got one hundred percent backing behind me."

Western Slope Honor flight raised roughly $120,000 to send the veterans on the trip. Officials say they want to thank the community for all their support.

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