WASHINGTON (KFSN) -- Every single Honor Flight trip is a special one, but the nineteenth to depart from Fresno brought heartache, healing and a long overdue "thank you" to Valley veterans.
Central Valley Honor Flight 19 was the first to feature exclusively Vietnam veterans on board, 68 in total, ranging in age from 64 to 80. There were veterans from the Army (32), Navy (16), Marine Corps (14) and Air Force (6) in attendance.
The trip departed from Fresno-Yosemite International on Monday morning, arriving at Baltimore Washington Airport at about 4 p.m. ET. An Honor Flight "Ground Crew" was there to welcome the veterans and a volunteer Honor Flight motorcycle escort led the group to dinner at a nearby VFW Post.
On Tuesday, the group toured the Air Force Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Navy Memorial, the World War II Memorial and had lunch at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.
The focal point of the trip was the visit to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Vets had the chance to see the names of friends and family who didn't make it home.
"It was warm, that's the only way I can describe it. It's chilly up here but when I was down at the wall and had the opportunity to relive the situation it was warm. Unbelievable feeling," said Robert Vannata, who used a pencil and paper to take home the names of three of his fallen friends, including his closest friend who died in his arms.
On Wednesday, the group visited Arlington National Cemetery and witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As they unloaded from the bus to go to the Marine Corps Memorial, tourists and others in the area gathered to clap and thank the veterans for their service.
I don't make a habit of crying but there's been a couple times on this trip that the applause and reception we got will make you cry," said Wayne Steward. "Don't have to worry about dodging beer bottles or anything. Very wonderful experience."
On the flight home, the veterans received mail from family, friends and strangers thanking them for their sacrifices. The group arrived to the roar of a crowd as they got back to Fresno, getting the welcome home they missed out on decades before.
"This is the most fantastic trip I've ever been on, to finally come home to a... a welcome home," said Bob McCracken after being greeted by hundreds.
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Vietnam veterans get an overdue "thank you" on Honor Flight trip