ALCOA (WATE) – The 22nd HonorAir flight out of Knoxville returned Wednesday evening from the nation’s capital.
More than 130 veterans went on the latest trip including three women who helped with the Manhattan Project. The veterans received a hero’s welcome as hundreds of people turned out to welcome them home.
“It was a piece of cake until I got here. This was the icing on the cake,” said Marvin Simmons, a Korean War veteran.
Simmons said he enjoyed every part of the trip but the welcome home was his favorite part.
“After the Korean War, I didn’t have anyone to greet me,” said Simmons.
That is what made this so special.
“It was hard not to tear up,” said a Vietnam War veteran.
It was a humbling experience for these heroes. It was a welcome that was very different from the ones after the Vietnam War.
“We weren’t welcomed home. I just love seeing people coming out now to make a point of welcoming us home,” said the Vietnam War veteran.
The celebration made them feel very loved.
“So much love. It has been like that all day,” said Simmons.
Bishop Zack Flack, pastor at Boyds Creek Church of God and Korean War veteran, is one of the veterans taking the trip. He said he was most excited to be able to exchange experiences with other veterans.
“I’m more than excited. I’m in a state of ecstasy,” said Bishop Flack. “I want to see all of the memorials. I want to have a chance to meet other veterans and to be able to communicate with them an interact with them.”
The veterans will visit World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Marine and Air Force memorials. Also, they will see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Even the people escorting the veterans through the day were eager for the trip, including one with a familiar face – Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
“It’s going to be a cool day. I’m looking forward to it, I’ve got three great guys: a Korean war veteran, two Vietnam veterans,” said Chief Rausch. “We’re just four army guys that are going up to enjoy the day with each other so we’re really looking forward to it.”
For many of the veterans, the experience is more than the trip, the excitement, and seeing the memorials. For some, it’s about finally getting to hear a message they’ve waited so long to hear. One Vietnam War vet said he is looking forward to coming back to McGhee Tyson for the celebration of their return.
“‘Welcome home’, that’s all we need,” said Tom McKay. “We get it now.”
The public is encouraged to welcome home the veterans at 8:15 p.m. at McGhee Tyson Airport.