FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Dozens of veterans from the Central Valley have touched down in Washington DC as part of the 11th Central Valley Honor Flight. It's the ultimate thank you to our men and women of service.
Since 2013, the Central Valley Honor Flight has raised more than $1.5 million to give veterans the chance to visit Washington DC. It's a trip where they not only see monuments and memorials built in their honor, but they get to share their stories and honor those who couldn't make the trip with them.
"We realize that freedom isn't free," Paul Loeffler with the organization said."We realize that people went over there and risking their lives to pay for it."
This will be the first trip to our nation's capital for army veteran and Selma native Sam Esraelian.
"I'm sorry I didn't go earlier but I'm happy I'm going now," he said.
Esraelian served for nearly two years, including 10 months in the Korean War where he worked his way up to platoon leader for the 57th Recoilless Rifle Squad. He said taking this trip is an honor and not just for him.
"I feel sorry for the people that never made it back," he said. "And to me, I think I'm going back in their honor because they never make it."
The 11th Central Valley Honor Flight is taking 65 veterans to Washington DC, representing 24 hometowns and in nine counties throughout the Central Valley.
"They all put their lives on the line whether they served stateside or overseas," military mom Robin Pappas said.
In the sea of veterans and their loved ones, you may notice that Pappas goes above and beyond to thank our hometown heroes, all while getting their autographs. With a checklist in hand, Pappas, a nature photographer, makes sure to get every veteran's autograph at each sendoff. She uses the final autographed poster as a fundraiser to put money back into Honor Flight.
She said fundraising is her way of showing support for her sons' decision to serve and to the brave men and women who came before them.
"I think it's really important that we remember their service, respect their service and just honor them in that special way," Pappas said.