KNOXVILLE (WATE) – More than 100 East Tennessee veterans went to Washington D.C. Wednesday with the HonorAir program.
One hundred thirty-three World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans arrived at the airport before the sun was up for an all expenses paid trip to the nation’s capital.
The group got to see several war memorials. It was an emotional experience for some because these veterans got to see tributes to the men and women who died in the wars they fought in.
“That was pretty tough. Pretty tough. Only looked for a couple of names but I found the one I wanted,” said Cecil Ottow, a Vietnam War veteran.
Hugh Barnett, 100 years old, was among them. He worked on the Manhattan Project and was part of the crew that developed the first atomic bomb.
“I started in the Manhattan Project in 1943. I had top secret clearance,” he said.
He is now the oldest Honor Air participant and proud to be a part of it.
“I called him the other day and asked him if he needed a wheelchair and he laughed at me and said, ‘no, I do not need a wheelchair,'” laughed HonorAir Flight coordinator Jim Cundall. “He’s one of those people that you talk to him and he just makes life so much better, just talking to a guy like him.”
Velva Irwin also worked on the Manhattan Project when she was just 16 years old.
“I worked about a year, and I was there the day they dropped the bomb and saw all that,” she said.
She also had a seat on the Honor Air flight.
“I’ve talked to people and they’re like ‘Oh you worked the Manhattan Project?’ It’s another century, but to us it’s real,” Irwin said. “I think it’s marvelous that we get together and we go back in time and try to relate it to the younger generations.”
At the end of the day organizers always welcome the public to come out and line up in the hallway here at McGhee Tyson Airport and welcome these veterans home. Hundreds gathered at McGhee Tyson Airport to greet the heroes.
“When we come, the welcome home is important,” said Cundall. “When you go out and welcome these guys back, it is probably one of the most emotional things when you welcome these guys back.”
Many people waited for more than an hour to get a good spot to see the veterans. World War 2 veteran James Barton, 96, went on the trip. This was the first time he visited the nation’s capital.
“I had a wonderful trip. I didn’t realize how many things I was going to see,” said Burton.
Cundall says when many of the World War II Veterans came home they had to walk home from the bus stop. Some of the Vietnam Veterans were met with protesters.
“We took a guy last June who actually got shot by a protester. It’s amazing how many people have told me they got spit on when they come back,” said Cundall.
When Ottow finished serving in Vietnam, he also did not get a greeting when coming home.
“Flew into Chicago and the first thing we did was go to the restroom change clothes. We got out of our uniform cause nobody wanted us. Nobody talked to us. So we just changed our clothes,” Ottow said.
Ottow said it was amazing to see this warm welcome from complete strangers.
“It was really really nice. I’m glad I made that trip,” Burton said.
It is the 23rd time an Honor Air Knoxville flight has taken off, carrying a total of 3,000 veterans.
23rd Knoxville HonorAir Flight
23rd Knoxville HonorAir Flight x