American flag-waving patrons filled the Spokane International Airport terminal Tuesday, each patiently awaiting the return of Inland Northwest Honor Flight veterans whose flight home was delayed.
The patriotic contingent waited nearly two hours, as the Medical Lake High School band played a medley of tunes in anticipation of the 102 local vets’ arrival from Washington, D.C.
Most aboard the flight had waited their entire lives to see the memorials in the nation’s capital honoring their service.
When the latest Honor Flight group finally spilled into the airport’s entryway and baggage claim area Tuesday night, some were likely met by the biggest ovations of their lives.
“Our generation, the Vietnam generation, was crucified coming home,” said Bill Bean, a Marine who fought in Vietnam. “We had a very bad homecoming. So coming home to this, it’s absolutely unbelievable.”
The retired servicemen and servicewomen from three different wars left for Washington D.C. on Monday morning and returned to Spokane on Tuesday.
Engine troubles delayed the flight back, Bean said.
“It was a great experience,” Bean said of the trip. “There was a lot of camaraderie.”
In less than two days, the group visited the World War II Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, U.S. Navy Memorial and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.
The Inland Northwest Honor Flight, a nonprofit, has sent more than 1,500 veterans to Washington on expense-paid trips since 2009.
Bill Carlton, who also served in Vietnam, said he made a beeline for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when the planedlanded and soon found the names of many of his friends.
“When I saw the wall, I was able to put some things to bed,” said Carlton, a Spokane man and who spent three years in the Army. “There were some tears.”
When the plane returned home to the supportive crowd of hundreds, it also evoked emotion.
“What a homecoming,” Carlton said.
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