69 Honor Flight veterans return with hero's welcome


They received a hero's welcome Thursday night at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Each of the veterans walked thru a long line of current members of the military, fellow veterans, the Fresno State band, cheerleaders, and several appreciative members of the public.

One of the most touching moments was when Earl "The Pearl" Watson came through the terminal with his wife on his lap.

Everyone at the homecoming said that it was important to give each of the veterans a warm welcome home.

Action News Anchor Warren Armstrong was on special assignment with the veterans all week. He described how they spent their final hours in Washington, D.C.

On a beautiful fall morning in Washington, 91-year-old William "Ken" Miller of Oakhurst made his first visit to the U.S. Marine Memorial. The monument depicts the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.

Like the 68- other World War II veterans on the Central Valley Honor Flight, Miller is a true American hero -- and he's a Marine. As a 20-year-old, Miller was one of only 12 survivors of the fierce and bloody battle of Saipan. He searched in vain for decades to find a particular painting depicting the battle with the Japanese forces. But during a special honor flight luncheon in the Library of Congress, an overwhelmed Miller received a reproduction of the painting -- that actually shows him in the middle of the firefight.

Like Ken Miller, Navy veteran Jonas Hofer of Fresno is a hero and a survivor. He and seven other young sailors stayed afloat, and alive, for hours in the South Pacific after a Japanese torpedo hit and sunk their warship, the USS Houston.

Miller and Hofer joined the other honor flight veterans in observing the "changing of the guard" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of white military grave markers that grow daily, the thoughts of the old veterans turned to the young men who didn't come home like they did.

Those war memories are burned into their minds, but these days, some memories aren't so easy to recall. One thing the Valley veterans won't forget -- their Honor Flight to Washington.

This is the first Central Valley Honor Flight, but it won't be the last. Plans are already underway for the next flight in March, and the waiting list of World War II veterans is at 50 and growing.

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