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Cornelius News

Honor Flight: Long after the wars have ended, veterans get the trip of a lifetime and the welcome home they deserve

Natale “Dee” D’Oria, a World War II veteran, lives in Cornelius. Photo by Jason Walle

By Dave Yochum. The Queen City Honor Flight in October brought veterans from Cornelius and all around Charlotte to Washington, D.C. where they saw the imposing monuments and memorials erected to their branches of the service or the war in which they fought.

Their return home was just as moving. When the chartered American Airlines jet landed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport after a full day in the nation’s capital, there was a triumphal water cannon salute courtesy of the Charlotte Fire Department.

The drama and excitement took off from there. Hundreds of cheering people gave the veterans the homecoming many of them never had when their tours of duty ended.

They risked life and limb to protect the freedoms some of us take for granted. They left family and friends for months and years, never to return the same.

To the sounds of a marching band, cheers and countless thank you’s, hand shakes and waves, the veterans arrived like conquering heroes. The welcome was extended for every veteran—Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines, as well as every war from World War II to Vietnam.

For Bob Elliott, 89, the homecoming was “amazing and breathtaking.” The Cornelius resident served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

“We were not welcomed home like World War II,he said. The matter-of-fact retired chemical executive isn’t complaining by any means. After three years of war in Korea—and more than 33,000 American casualties—on top of fresh memories of six years of fighting during World War II and more than 400,000 casualties, America was suffering battle fatigue.

“It was the start of where people were tired of fighting. I didn’t really expect a welcome,” Elliott said. He returned from the war and quickly went off to graduate school at Purdue and hardly looked back.

Stephanie Ann Bradley

By the end of the Vietnam War, the return to a divided country was traumatic for many veterans.

Cornelius resident Gene McKinney served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam era.

He felt a mix of emotions during the trip. “I was always proud to be a veteran…but when we landed, it was just a welcome I was not expecting.”

The Queen City Honor Flight seeks to honor the service and sacrifices of veterans, say organizers Nico Ianelli, and Aquesta Insurance executive, and Cornelius resident Stephanie Ann Bradley.

This was a massive undertaking. There were 160 people on a special American Airlines plane that boarded in Charlotte at around 7 a.m. There were 100 veterans: 10 from World War II, 22 from the Korean War and more than 60 Vietnam veterans. After a full day in Washington, D.C., the veterans landed back in Charlotte at about 8:30 p.m.

Honor Flights from coast to coast have helped bring more than 150,000 veterans to our nation’s capitol to experience their memorial.

The non-profit organization also advocates for veterans and works with other states to develop their own Honor Flight programs. Honor Flight is supported by Rotary clubs, individual and corporate donations as well as American Airlines.

Bob Elliott

It costs around $80,000 to run an Honor Flight, complete with escorts, snacks, food and chartered tour buses in DC. Veterans fly free.

The  next flight is May 26, 2018; the application deadline is April 1. The goal next year is to take 80 World War II veterans, as well as subsequent veterans with life-limiting illnesses. (For more information, visit www.qchonorflight.org.)

There were the smiles and tears at the memorials in Washington, as well as endless streams of tourists who realized what was happening in front of them.

Boy Scouts waited to shake hands, as did tourists from overseas. There was silence at Arlington National Cemetery where more than 400,000 are buried.

The Air Force Memorial is uplifting, while the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is immediately heart-wrenching. The World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces, has a scope and grandeur the other memorials do not have.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is contemporary, unlike any of the others, and very nearly puts you in the boots of battle-hardened American soldiers on patrol. The faces are startlingly realistic.

You could feel the emotions at the Korean Memorial…everybody had a hard time…I was humbled and awed by it. It brought back memories,” said Elliott, who is an assistant director of the Lake Norman Marine Commission. “The whole thing was sort of a going-back-in-time kind of experience.”

This was a great generation.

“It was amazing and breathtaking and very emotional,” Elliott said of the homecoming walk through the crowd.

Veteran’s Day events in Cornelius
American Legion Post 86 Commander Gene McKinney will be the master of ceremonies at the Veterans Monument at Rotary Plaza behind Town Hall at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.

The program honors military veterans and those currently serving in our Armed Forces. There will be a 21-gun salute as well as patriotic songs by W.A. Hough High School Concert Choir.

The day will start at 9 a.m. at the Cornelius Arts Center with patriotic arts and crafts, and cookie decorating. Light refreshments will be provided. Thank you cards can be presented to veterans afterward at the 11 a.m. ceremony.

Post 86 meets the first Thursday of each month, except July, at 21215 Legion St. in Cornelius. A Veterans Appreciation Dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at Grace Covenant Church in lieu of the November meeting.